The Sisters of Mercy have finally lifted the vow of silence.
The confidentiality agreement that blocked the mystery buyer of the Angel Guardian Home in Dyker Heights from revealing his intentions for the block-sized complex finally loosened enough for him to speak about his plans for the site, and how the community’s voice helped shape them.
Developer Scott Barone credited Brooklyn Paper sister the Bay Ridge Courier’s extensive coverage of local needs and concerns since the property’s sale last year as what informed his decisions to include a senior center, affordable housing, senior housing and perhaps a school there — in addition to the market-rate condos he had originally planned for the entire site — as well as to preserve the main building, which locals have been pushing to landmark to protect it from the wrecking ball.
“We really heard three things from the community at large: that they need schools and senior housing, that the Narrows Senior Center is something that’s important to this community as a whole, and that this building is important to this neighborhood, and we’re going to do everything in our power to keep it there,” said Barone, the founder and president of his eponymous management company, which has previously developed hotels, luxury apartments, and office and commercial buildings across the city.
The developer said that he has already had meetings with the Landmarks Preservation Commission about the century-old main building, but his current plans are to preserve it as part of the final design, though he’s not yet sure what would go there.
“It is our intention at this time to keep that main building in place,” he said, “and if it were to be landmarked, we’re okay with that.”
Barone said he expects to close the Angel Guardian deal within the next two to three months — pending approval from the Vatican — and that 60 percent of the block-sized property bound by 63rd and 64th streets and 12th and 13th avenues will be devoted to market-rate condos, with an additional 15 percent earmarked for affordable housing and the last 25 percent split between senior housing and perhaps a school.
City rules do not require the developer to include affordable housing, but a spokeswoman for the nuns promised the development would include “some affordable housing” when this paper broke the news of the sale last December.
Barone also pledged to offer the Narrows Senior Center a long-term lease at its current rent when the new buildings are complete, easing the worries of the soon-to-be-displaced seniors.
“We are 100-percent, without a doubt, offering to bring back the Narrows Senior Center with the same amount of space they have — at the current rent — for a 10-year lease,” he said. “It might not be for a couple years, because I can’t have seniors running around an active construction site, but we’ll sign that lease now.”
Barone added that he was not involved with the senior’s impending eviction, originally schedule for February, but postponed until mid-May.
The Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens — which operates the Narrows Center and plans to relocate the seniors to a space in Borough Park — did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
One of the organizers of the Guardians of the Guardian civic group said she was glad the developer heard — and is apparently heeding — the community’s concerns, but added that the group was opposed to the school and wants affordable senior housing instead.
“The fact that he wants to work with the community is wonderful, the fact that we’re going to get the senior housing is great, I’m very happy that he’s supportive of the senior center, but I’m still concerned about the school, and getting as much senior housing in there as possible,” said Fran Vella-Marrone.
But Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Bensonhurst), who met with Barone and other local elected officials and civic leaders including Vella-Marrone and Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann at the CB10 office on April 26, told this paper that a school would be a boon for the area — which is the city’s most overcrowded school district — even though some locals staunchly oppose the idea.
“I understand some people will be against the school, but it’s the right thing to do,” Abbate said. “[The seniors’] grandchildren are going to need schools, and we need it.”
Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge), who promised to build a school within his first term, was also at the meeting, and added that the developer should take advantage of this rare opportunity to alleviate the district’s overcrowded schools.
“One of the things we’ve discussed is that it’s so rare that we have such a large plot of land become available, and it would be shortsighted for us not to make use of it [for a school],” he said.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) were also at the meeting, along with reps from the offices of Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge) and Borough President Adams, plus CB10’s chairwoman Doris Cruz, and the nuns’ attorney.
Barone said the firm won the competitive bidding process in December, and that if the deal goes through as expected, he wouldn’t break ground on the site for at least a year — adding that construction will likely take much longer, even though they won’t try to change the zoning to build higher, as some had originally feared.
“If I was to start today, it’s probably a three-year process,” he said. “But we’re not going for any zoning changes.”
The lot is currently zoned for three-story row houses and mixed-use buildings.
And Barone also apologized for the shroud of secrecy surrounding the deal, adding that the confidentiality agreement prevented him from talking, and backlash from the concerned community shocked the nuns.
“On behalf of the Sisters and myself, I want to apologize for some of the confusion and lack of transparency,” he said. “The only reason we haven’t spoken to anyone is that up until four or five days ago, we and the Sisters were bound by a confidentiality agreement, which is very typical of a real-estate transaction.”
The secrecy surrounding the deal drove rumors and led locals to fear the worst, prompting protests and outrage that took the nuns by surprise, Barone said, and the vow of silence on the deal prevented him or the Sisters from assuaging their fears.
“There was a fair amount of public outcry that was unexpected, and [the nuns] aren’t businesspeople — they didn’t know how to respond or what to do.”
But Barone said he’s now looking towards the future, and will be happiest once the deal is done.
“It’s a beautiful building, and I’m going to be very happy to own it for a very long period of time,” he said.
The Sisters of Mercy did not respond to a request for comment by press time.