In the ongoing battle to save a piece of Dyker Heights ancestry at the Angel Guardian Home on 12th Avenue between 63 and 64 Streets, residents suspect developers and city officials of deliberately leaving them out of the conversation and cutting deals behind closed doors to have only one building out of the three plots landmarked.
Suspicions of campaign contributions and lobbying, initially reported by The Queen of Click, have gained momentum as both State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Marine Park) and Councilman Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach) explain their support of the developer’s decision, much to the dismay of community advocates.
The Angel Guardian Home (AGH) is currently going through the designation process with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), and on June 30, was voted to be put on the calendar as an individual landmark. The public hearing was held on August 11. The public hearing is followed by a public meeting which the LPC has not yet scheduled, said the LPC.
Fran Vella-Marrone, President of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, testified at the public hearing along with Brannan, developer and owner Scott Barone of Barone Management, and others.
“We don’t want to lose the history of our community,” said Vella-Marrone. “It should be saved. It should be salvaged.”
Vella-Marrone said that the association has supported the landmarking of the entire site, which includes the old Sisters of Mercy (SOM) orphanage and convent. She disagrees with the decision to landmark just the main building and the nixed plan to implement assisted living for seniors.
Vella-Marrone, Community Board 10, and Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who actually represents the area the property is in, wrote a letter saying as much back in June. Additionally, she said that other city officials, Barone, and the LPC have lagged in communicating plans for the beloved Angel Guardian site.
In the public hearing, Brannan, who represents the neighboring district, testified on behalf of Assemblymember Peter Abbate Jr. and Gounardes – as the site is in both of their districts. Brannan endorsed the “preservation in its present form” and maintained that Barone has been “transparent and cooperative.”
The three lawmakers jointly penned a letter reiterating that statement on August 11 to LPC Chair Sarah Carroll.
“Senator Gounardes [has] been a strong supporter of landmarking the Angel Guardian Home and has worked with the commission and local stakeholders to make it happen since his election in 2018. The designation of the landmark and the construction of a new school are both exciting developments in our communities that he’s happy to support,” said Gounardes’ spokesperson.
“From day one, Councilman Brannan has fought to save the historic Angel Guardian site from the wrecking ball. Since the moment the property was sold in 2018, Councilman Brannan has monitored the negotiations like a hawk to ensure the best possible outcome for the neighborhood and one that will honor the legacy of the beloved Angel Guardian Home,” said Brannan’s office.
“When all is said and done, the community will see a much-needed 600+ seat public elementary school in one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city, much-needed housing, and the first official landmark designation in Dyker Heights for the century-old former orphanage building,” said Brannan’s office.
According to campaign finances and reports, Barone contributed $1,000 to Brannan’s campaign in 2019, and contributed a total of $2,250 this year to Gounardes campaign, which both of their statements neatly dodged when asked about the contributions by KCP.
Sources close to the issue noted that Barone bought the property as of right, and as such could have done anything on it. However, Barone made efforts in meeting with the community on several occasions, sources said.
The Angel Guardian Home is architecturally significant and reflects the importance given to social services in the Progressive Era, and of the role the Sisters of Mercy have played in Brooklyn for over a century, said the LPC.
The Sisters of Mercy was originally founded in Ireland and emigrated to the U.S, “taking vows of justice. No discrimination of race or class, and to be self-governing and self-sufficient,” said the LPC. SOM owned the land the orphanage was built on back in 1880. The buildings were designed in 1897 by George H. Streeton in the renaissance revival, beaux arts style with a raised lawn surrounded by a stone wall.
By 1899, the orphanage was founded, and operated into the late 1970s. In 2003, Angel Guardian and St. Mary’s of the Angels in Syosset merged to form MercyFirst, a nonprofit social service agency that serves more than 4,000 children and families in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties, said their Facebook page.
The Angel Guardian Home was sold to Barone on August 15, 2018 for $37.5 million, according to the Brooklyn Paper.
Barone’s office said that they currently have no comment on the situation at this time.