Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Carroll Gardens resident responds to notion of the "Too Nice" developer

CORD has been asked to please publish this letter written and submitted very recently to the Editor of the Brooklyn Papers by a Carroll Gardens homeowner in response to a recent article on the Oliver House development project at 360 Smith Streets/131 Second Place entitled:

"Builder: I was too nice"
By Mike McLaughlin
The Brooklyn Paper July 31, 2008

"The July 31 article by Mike McLaughlin titled, "I Was Too Nice", tells the story of a sympathetic developer who was simply too nice to the neighborhood and citizens gloating over his current troubles. If this is satire, it is too subtle for me, but if it purports to be accurate, it is simply lazy journalism.

Mr. Stein, though a seemingly very nice guy, has met with the neighborhood, not to ask for our support or advice, but to show us what he was going to do (and in order to be able to say that he had met with us and 'listened'). Here are some observations from one who met with him:

-Changes to the design were, as he explained at the time, because HE wasn't happy with them in the first place. He didn't make a 'far better project for the community' he made a slightly differently decorated oversized project for his own reasons.

-His change of architects was prompted by Mr. Sarano's difficulties and how the fallout from that might affect Mr. Stein's building. After singing Mr. Scarano's praises to us he abandoned him for patently political reasons.

-On the single most important complaint raised by the community – that the building was simply much too large – Mr. Stein was immovable. He refused to give up one square foot of space he felt entitled to. Not even to increase the paltry 12" setback he boasted about at the top of the fifth floor, to decrease the apparent bulk of the project.

-When I asked why he would build a building so much larger than any in the neighborhood he asserted that the zoning laws were designed to define the correct building envelopes and he was simply fulfilling that mission. Now that the law says otherwise I guess he no longer believes in its wisdom.

-The reduction of the public plaza (and the trees he has already removed) is another way in Mr. Stein has callously ignored the greater good. He left only what he was required to leave and removed mature trees where they were in his way.

-Mr. Stein claimed he would be living in the top floor unit. This may have been a way to indicate his commitment to the neighborhood, but as he walked back to his Aston Martin DB9 (parked around the corner) it was hard to square his wealth with living over the subway entrance.

-If the neighborhood is gloating it is because Mr. Stein's smug attitude has finally met the sensibility of the city's zoning experts. This process has been underway for months and if the builder wanted to slip under the wire he had ample time.

To be fair, Mr. Stein deserves to build a project of currently legal size and to make a profit on his investment. The question is whether he should be able to further deface the neighborhood (he owns the unbelievable ugly school next door) simply to maximize his profit. Had he truly worked 'with' the neighborhood we would be supporting his efforts. But instead he employed his very obvious charm to tell us just what he was going to do, and feign a response to our concerns. It is rare that the city government acts quickly enough to save a neighborhood from overdevelopment, but that is really the story you should be covering."

Very truly yours,

James Biber, Carroll Gardens homeowner


With the "Protect Our Homes" petition, CORD was formed in May, 2007. This petition arose as an overwhelmingly negative response to the coming of the over-sized 360 Smith Street Development at the corner of Smith Street and Second Place (Aka Oliver House; aka 131 Second Place). This petition, which had well over three thousand signatures, led to a new zoning text amendment in summer of 2008.

To: Our Elected Officials, Community Leaders, The MTA:
(MAY, 2007)

We the undersigned Carroll Gardens homeowners and residents, are appalled by the "as of right" ruling which allows owners and developers to erect buildings in our neighborhood with no regard to the impact they will present to our quality of life and the value of our homes........