Builder: I was too nice

A new rendering for 360 Smith St., seen here from Second Place, represents a big change from Robert Scarano's original steel design.
Oliver Developments

Add this to the “no good deed goes unpunished” category: A developer of a controversial condo project says his building is stalled because he was so responsive to neighborhood complaints that the city had time to implement the very zoning changes that made his previously legal project suddenly illegal.

Developer Billy Stein had been applauded by Carroll Gardens residents and elected officials for meeting with neighbors when they were upset about the original size and appearance of his proposed seven-story apartment building at the corner of Second Place and Smith Street.

But now they’re reveling in stifling his project.

“This is a great step in our neighborhood’s commitment to maintain its integrity and unique character,” the Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development wrote in an e-mail after the City Council blocked Stein by limiting building heights and densities on 15 blocks in the mostly low-rise neighborhood.

The irony is that if Stein had run roughshod over community concerns, he could have laid enough of his foundation to be grandfathered in under the old zoning rules.

Not that he’s bitter, of course.

“Maintaining communications with the community about the design was the right thing to do,” Stein said in an e-mail. “We have a far better project, both for the neighborhood and for our future residents, as a result.”

Amid neighborhood complaints last June, Stein scrapped his original metal-clad design by bad boy architect Robert Scarano.

He then hired a new draftsman and came back months later with a more contextual brick design though, at seven stories, it was still too tall for some tastes.

Now Stein’s building, which he calls Oliver House, is stopped in its tracks because the city fast-tracked the zoning change that was implemented last week.

Stein had asked the city to exempt his project from the rezoning to no avail, but residents are not very sympathetic.

“It wasn’t any secret that this thing [zoning change] was happening,” said Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association member Gary Reilly, referring to the grassroots campaign that coalesced a year ago to close a zoning loophole that had classified some Carroll Gardens streets as “wide” — and therefore suitable for taller buildings.

“I certainly appreciate the developer working with the neighborhood. He did a really good job re-imagining the façade of the building, but at the end of the day, we’d like to see something keeping in scale with the rest of the neighborhood,” Reilly said.

In the wake of the new regulations, the Department of Buildings halted work at a handful of other Carroll Gardens construction sites, though none were as much of a flashpoint as Stein’s project.

Stein will seek a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals to allow him to complete his 70-foot edifice.

Updated on Monday, Aug. 4: An earlier version of this story referred to the group C.O.R.D. (also known as the Coalition for Respectful Development) under an incorrect name. This version of the story is accurate.

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