360 Smith: Better Than What Was There

360 Smith Street/Oliver House is nearing completion. Here's a look at the positives and negatives of the development.

"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.

Additional positives:

 - 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.

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Anonymous May 09, 2011 at 03:23 PM
That building is the biggest eyesore ever. It looks like two completely different buildings that fell into each other during an earthquake. The architect should be shot. A red brick building would have been ok, as would a black building with floor to ceiling windows, but to combine two totally different designs into one building is totally bewildering. I'd choose a parking lot (never saw rats there, by the way) over this monstrosity any day.
Joel Cairo May 09, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Why is there a steel roll down gate at the subway exit?? No 24 hr access at this entrance, so we must navigate the warren of steps and corridors after certain hours(which as of yet are not posted), so as not to inconvenience those high priced renters. This is crap.
Anonymous May 09, 2011 at 04:02 PM
That entrance won't be open 24 hrs anymore? Just another reason that building is a nightmare. Inconveniencing the whole neighborhood!
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 06:20 PM
I did not see a steel roll down gate on the subway entrance. Anyone have any real info on that?
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 06:22 PM
I would suggest Roslyn, or perhaps Indianapolis, for communities filled with parking lots instead of medium density, transit dependent developments. As for open season on architects, I'm sure that both developers and community members would be happy with that.
Joel Cairo May 09, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Take a close look.... Those are tracks for the door, and i have seen it being tested.
Anonymous May 09, 2011 at 08:45 PM
I don't want a neighborhood 'filled with parking lots' but this was the only one in the whole neighborhood! I had no problem with it. Way better than developers coming in and putting up a building totally out of character with the neighborhood.
Anthony May 09, 2011 at 08:53 PM
The building is ugly. I understand that no newly constructed building is going to look like the brownstone my family owns. But, to say 360 Smith St. " does not completely match the existing built environment," is a grave understatement. It does not match any building by the smallest detail. And it honestly does look like two different buildings. BTW, I never ever saw rats in that parking lot. Who are these "some" that say this?
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 09:00 PM
So your (anonymous) feeling is that a parking lot on top of a train station is the lesser of two evils? I respectfully disagree, both professionally and personally.
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 09:06 PM
The facade is mostly brick (with an unfortunate metal corner). The majority of the buildings in the neighborhood are not brownstone, but brick. Not the buildings that directly abut it, but all up and down Smith Street, 2nd Street, 3rd Street, 4th Street, you will find few, if any, actual brownstones, like you will find on the Place blocks and the existing historic district. As for rats, I combined my personal observations from years in the transit garden across the street, with those of a family friend who lived in the neighborhood, but chose to park his car in that lot.
Anthony May 09, 2011 at 09:10 PM
They share brick. Wonderful. The building is still sticking out like a sore thumb. Is a new building better than a park lot, yes. But not that kind of a building.
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Ok, we have a second vote for parking lot versus this building. In Brooklyn. On top of a train station. That is three stops from Manhattan.
Anonymous May 09, 2011 at 10:01 PM
The facade is mostly brick with an unfortunate metal corner?? Are you kidding me? Half the building is red brick and half is black metal. And each part has totally different sized windows. It's ridiculous. Anyway, brick or brownstone, all the nearby buildings keep with a certain design. This building is different in every way. And why is the only other option a parking lot on top of the subway station? I'm not saying that would be so great but yes, I would certainly prefer it over this building. Also, I love how they made sure to finish all the landscaping way before completing the subway entrance. Way to go.
Jared Ranere May 09, 2011 at 10:06 PM
I used to live on 4th Pl. and that was my subway entrance. I have to agree with you Michael, the parking lot was pretty lame and there's another 1 block south under the tracks on Smith St. The new building, though definitely out of character with the others in the neighborhood, might be a sweet place to live. Right on top of a good subway line, lots of light, and in the middle of a neighborhood with great bars, restaurants, and schools. I bet the units fetch a pretty penny. Can't wait to see what it does for local real estate. What do you think? Value increase or decrease?
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 10:51 PM
The majority of the building is a brick. An objection to the color of the brick sounds like you'd like to legislate design and color choices, which is fine, but that also means all of the other things that come along with Landmarking. There are plenty of positives and negatives to landmarking as well, which is the point of this exercise; yes there are some bad things that come along with this building, and yes there are some positive things that come along with it. In my opinion, this building is better than the parking lot that was there before; in yours (once again, anonymously), a parking lot is preferable. That's not to say there aren't better options design wise that could have been implemented; I believe that there certainly are. But I also recognize that given the cost considerations in the construction industry today, we are staring at a far superior finished product to what could have been there; the original Scarano design, or the Hot Karl on Hamilton or the Leaning Tower on 4th and Carroll or even any of the new glass towers downtown. As for construction phasing, are you surprised that a construction project would move forward on items that would move the renting process (and therefore, the revenue-generating process) along faster than items that would not? If you want to make a builder finish subway access prior to other phases of the project, then I suggest lobbying elected officials to legislate for such a requirement.
Michael Brown May 09, 2011 at 10:53 PM
There are actually two large ones under the track on Smith, as well as a few smaller ones around the neighborhood, on Union, Sackett and Clinton. The units asking prices are high, but I doubt they will have much of an effect on the overall real estate market in the neighborhood. It is already very high, and the majority of the housing stock is in a very different category from these units.
D June 04, 2011 at 03:38 AM
Is Carroll Gardens NEVER gonna have something new?? 360 is better than an old rat infested lot. Look at the HOLE on Court and union. They kept fighting it when the developers had money. NOW look at it. Id rather have a 20 story then that hole.


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