Government briefs

State panel probes Apple’s deal for Grand Central
Holiday shoppers weren’t the only ones eyeing Apple’s new megastore in Grand Central Terminal last month. A state assembly panel is investigating Apple’s 10-year lease with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to determine if the company got a “sweetheart” deal, the New York Post reported. Apple is expected to make some $100 million per year from its new store, the Post said, but its $60-per-square-foot rent is far less than that of its Grand Central neighbors.

City planners propose new ‘green’ zoning rules
The City Planning Commission last month proposed changes to the zoning code that would help make city buildings more eco-friendly, Crain’s reported. The new “Zone Green” rule changes would allow solar panels, green roofs and other eco-friendly features to be built in areas where zoning restrictions would otherwise prevent them. “This is the most comprehensive citywide initiative dealing with energy efficiency and green building in the U.S.,” said Amanda Burden, chair of the City Planning Commission. “This is about being a greener city, providing cleaner air and water, as well as saving money on utility bills.” The proposals will be reviewed by the city’s community boards and all five borough presidents, and must be approved by the City Council before they can be adopted citywide.

U.S. Supreme Court may hear challenge to New York City’s rent-stabilization laws

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A Manhattan landlord has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the city’s rent-stabilization laws, claiming they are unconstitutional, the New York Daily News reported. Attorney James Harmon, who owns a brownstone occupied by three rent-stabilized tenants, called New York’s rent-stabilization laws a “racket.” “The issue is whether the Constitution allows the government to force someone to take strangers into their home and to subsidize them for the rest of their lives,” Harmon told the Daily News. If the Supreme Court hears the case and agrees with Harmon, laws impacting roughly a million New York City residents living in rent-stabilized apartments would be invalidated. The high court ordered the city to submit briefs responding to Harmon’s argument by Jan. 4. The district court and state Supreme Court have already declined to hear the case. “We are confident that once the U.S. Supreme Court receives our brief, the lower courts’ decision will stand,” said city attorney Leonard Koerner.

Congressman proposes replacing Fannie, Freddie

Johnny Isakson, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia, has introduced a bill to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Isakson proposed replacing Fannie and Freddie with a new government agency, which would provide guarantees on securities comprised of mortgages that meet certain standards, the Wall Street Journal reported. The new corporation, to be called the “Mortgage Finance Agency,” would be privatized within 10 years. Fannie and Freddie, meanwhile, would be placed in receivership, a form of bankruptcy restructuring, and their assets liquidated. “This legislation is a detailed road map to change the unsustainable course we’re on, in which the American taxpayers have been bailing out the mortgage industry,” said Isakson, a former real estate broker. Few expect Congress to approve the bill before the end of the term, however.

Compiled by Russell Steinberg