“They are an insular, arrogant group”: Borough presidents have harsh words for DOB, City Planning

James Oddo, Gale Brewer and Eric Adams discussed their complex relationships with the real estate industry on the latest TRD Talks Live

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo wants to make one thing very clear: Pandemic or no pandemic, he is not a fan of the Department of City Planning.

“They are an insular, arrogant group,” he said. “And I hope [the next mayor goes] in there, and they bring that agency back to the communities, and they reflect the values of the community. They don’t care about irrational development on Staten Island.”

Oddo joined Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for the latest edition of TRD Talks on Wednesday, where the trio discussed their complex relationships with the real estate industry and how New York’s real estate industry will change after the pandemic.

Brewer didn’t share many thoughts on City Planning. Instead, she reserved her ire for the Department of Buildings and the way it typically handles controversial projects in Manhattan — specifically pointing to Michael Dell’s 19-story mixed-use project on the Upper West Side and Real Estate Inverland’s project at 1059 Third Avenue.

“They don’t read anything,” Brewer said of the city agency. “They don’t read the materials, so these communities have to hire their own engineer, their own land use attorney, to be able to read the plans that the Department of Buildings is supposed to read.”

Adams, who is expected to run for mayor next year, shied away from criticizing city agencies and offered up a more spirited defense of the city’s real estate industry than one typically hears from New York Democrats. He noted that more than half of New York’s tax revenue comes from real estate, and that the industry had stepped up in a big way after crises like September 11 and the 2008 financial collapse.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“If we lose our real estate industry, it’s like Texas losing oil. That is the foundation of our city,” Adams said. “Now, we must make sure we’re responsible. We must make sure that we don’t have bad acting landlords that displace innocent tenants, but we must be clear that this is a city where we build.”

The borough presidents cited food issues and unemployment as some of their constituents’ main concerns. Oddo also stressed how important personal responsibility was during a crisis and slammed the idea of equating resisting social distancing guidelines with patriotism as “macho ‘America!’ nonsense.”

“In Staten Island, it’s like, ‘I’m ripping the mask off. I’m a patriot,’” he said. “I think that’s BS.”

Check out more of TRD Talks Live

The BPs also addressed one of the biggest threats to commercial real estate: the work-from-home phenomenon.

Oddo said that for Staten Island, which “has the worst commute in the city and one of the worst commutes in the nation, the idea of being able to work from home is a welcome change.”

But the situation is much different in Manhattan, where easier commutes have long been one of the main appeals of living in the borough. Now, anxiety is rising among office landlords who fear some of their longstanding tenants will not come back, according to Brewer.

“It’s a concern because obviously there is a lot of commercial space in the borough of Manhattan,” she said, “and all of the commercial real estate people are nervous because people have not only learned to work at home and enjoyed it, but guess what? It’s going to save money for the company that is renting at a vast cost per square foot.”