"Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good" - usually attributed to Voltaire.
This quote passes through my head as I look at the (relatively) finished product at 360 Smith Street.
First, the negatives of the former Oliver House:
1) Yes, it is a little tall for the block (2nd Place between Court and Smith), although just by one or two stories (depending on your definition of a story and your feelings about density and height).
2) Yes, the style of construction does not completely match the existing built environment.
3) Yes, the train station entrance/exit has been choked for many moons now.
Now, the rebuttals to those (valid) points:
1) Most land use experts and planners will tell you that nodes at intersections should have higher base heights and greater density than the interiors of blocks, especially at commercial and transit corridors such as Smith Street. Coupled with the location of a train station in the building, and from a transit, land use and zoning perspective, there is hardly a better location for greater density in the neighborhood.
2) It is almost impossible to construct a new building to a pre-war standard nowadays and have the prices be affordable (affordable to who is I guess a debate for another time). The reason that 360 Smith was built with the brick/glass mashup that we see today was partly a design consideration (much, much better than the original Scarano glass design), but primarily a function of cost and market demand. If the builder could have gotten $5,000 for one bedroom apartments, we'd probably be looking at a very different facade today.
3) Any reconstruction of the 2nd Place entrance would have taken a while, and all things considered, this was not an extended period of time. In addition, it seems that the entrance is much improved, as is the public plaza that truly makes the (Carroll) garden in front of the station more of a public amenity than the prior one.
- By eliminating a parking lot (and, some would say, a breeding ground for rats), many good things happened. Probably the most unintentional, but near and dear to my transit-loving heart, was getting rid of the sad irony of a parking lot on top of a train station. The negative effects of parking spaces have been widely documented, especially in our neighborhood, so I will not get into them now, but using this lot for parking was probably its least economically beneficial and most destructive use possible.
- Taxes; this is a small benefit to our community (since the impacts are dispersed over the city as a whole), but as a policy to grow the City's tax base, development of vacant properties (at whatever scale is appropriate) is essential.
- The inclusion of a small, seemingly commercial space (I'm not sure, this may be a dreaded "Community Facility", although unlikely, due to their FAR swap with Hannah Senesh) on the corner will bring some more commerce to this end of Smith Street, and perhaps some price competition to Frank's. This can only be good.
Please don't take this to mean that I believe 360 Smith Street is the best new building to be developed recently, or that few residents who did seek to stall and lower the scale of the development did not have their own valid considerations.
It is what it is, which is progress, with all of the imperfections that come along with it.