They finally closed the deal.
A private builder is now the official owner of Dyker Heights’s sprawling Angel Guardian home after he and the Sisters of Mercy closed the $37.5-million deal on the property on Aug. 15, he said.
Developer Scott Barone told this newspaper that he stands by his plans to build market-rate, affordable, and senior housing on the property, along with a school, which he said will help make the century-old orphanage a cornerstone of the community again.
“I think it has the potential to have a greater impact on the community than it has had in nearly a generation. There haven’t been orphans in there for years. Everybody knows what it was and where it is, but it really hasn’t had an active role for anybody in that community for a very long time,” 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. “It’s going to breathe a lot of fresh life into the property, and it’s going to give a lot of people in the neighborhood the chance to have something to do with that property.”
Barone said more than half of the city block–sized property — bound by 63rd and 64th streets and 12th and 13th avenues — will feature about 115 market-rate studio, one-, and two-bedroom condos, along with private outdoor space for residents. A small portion of the property will feature about 35 so-called affordable rental units, subsidized through the state’s Affordable New York Housing Program.
The remainder of the property will include a school with up to 800 seats, and between 120 and 150 assisted-living units in a skilled nursing-care facility — which Barone termed “luxury senior living.” He also pledged to build an underground parking lot for residents, with about 100 spaces.
The developer will not need any zoning change to carry out his plans, since the site is zoned for three-story row houses and mixed used buildings.
Barone also promised to heed locals’ concerns by keeping the main building — and all of the green space in front of it — which residents had previously pushed the city to landmark in a bid to save it from demolition. He added that he wanted to preserve at least part of the property’s impressive, historic architecture, saying that it would make a good home for either the school or the senior-housing component.
“We are still keeping that building, 100 percent,” Barone said. “It’s a beautiful building, and it’s in really good shape. There’s detailed crown molding inside, you’ve got 14-foot ceilings on the ground floor, the former chapel has 25-foot ceilings, the brickwork on the exterior of the building is old-world masonry — you can’t duplicate that anymore.”
And Barone added that he has offered the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens a 10-year-lease for the Narrows Senior Center — which remained on the property until this past spring — so that the seniors could return to their old stomping grounds.
Catholic Charities did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
The nuns first put the property up for sale in 2016, and found a buyer last December. Barone finally revealed his plans for the property with this paper in April, when his confidentiality agreement with the nuns loosened enough for him to discuss details about his intentions for the site. But the months of secrecy surrounding the deal drove rumors and led locals to fear the worst, prompting protests and outrage that surprised the nuns and influenced Barone’s plans for the site, he said, adding that he had not thought about adding senior housing before reading that residents wanted it.
“The reality of it is if the community hadn’t spoken out the way they did, I think it would’ve been a bunch of residential [units]. We would not have done as much homework if the neighborhood hadn’t spoken up,” Barone said. “I had never considered [senior housing], but the community pointed out that it was needed, we took a very hard look at it, and the community was right: there is an aging population in certain sections of the neighborhood that wants to stay within the neighborhood that they’ve lived.”
But an organizer of one of the outspoken community groups, the Guardians of the Guardian, pointed out that locals were specifically asking for affordable senior housing, not the “luxury senior living” Barone envisions.
“We want senior housing that would be available for everyone — some affordable and some for those that are middle-income people,” said Fran Vella-Marrone.
She added that her group wishes Barone would nix the school in favor of affordable senior housing.
“It’s not that we’re against schools, but we felt that a school at that location wasn’t appropriate,” she said. “The school is not something that we were looking to have there because we wanted to maximize the space for senior housing.”
But Barone said the school district — which is the city’s most overcrowded — badly needs another school, and that seniors could apply to live in the affordable housing component, but that it would lack the amenities that the units specifically set aside for seniors would offer.
“There is nothing they need there more than school. It’s the most overtaxed school district in New York City,” he said. “A person who’s spry in their 70s could by all means live in an affordable apartment under the Affordable New York Housing Program, but that’s not going to have any of the stepped-up level of services that people going into senior housing are going to need.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the agency works “with families, community members, and elected officials to identify suitable locations for new school buildings and seats,” but did not respond to an inquiry about whether or not the city’s School Construction Authority was considering building a new school on the site.
Barone said crews will start “selective demolition” of various small buildings and garages on the property by the end of this year, and that the development will likely be finished in about three years, though he wishes it would be sooner.
“If it was up to me, I’d break ground tomorrow,” he said.
The Sisters of Mercy did not respond to a request for comment by press time.