Ever since the Sisters of Mercy sold the Angel Guardian property in Dyker Heights to unknown developer last month, locals and their elected representatives have increased their calls for community input to shape what will be the neighborhood’s largest real estate development in a generation.
Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park), whose district encompasses the century-old former orphanage, said he recognizes the Sisters’ right to sell the property to the buyer of their choice, but warned that he would block any re-zoning attempts that ignore the community’s repeated calls for affordable senior housing.
“I expect any new owner to conduct meaningful community engagement,” he said. “I assure my constituents that a developer who fails to meet community needs will not receive consideration from my office on matters under City Council oversight, including re-zoning.”
If the mystery developers want to change the zoning to be able to build higher on the property — which is zoned for three-story row houses — they would have to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, requiring extensive public review by the Department of City Planning, the City Planning Commission, the community board, Borough President Adams, the borough board, the Council, and the mayor. And Menchaca’s opposition would likely scuttle any rezoning proposal at the Council level, since the body tends to follow the lead of the local councilmember on land-use issues.
The city’s new inclusionary zoning law would also require the developers to incorporate affordable housing in return for any zoning changes.
When this paper broke the news of the sale of the property, a spokeswoman for the Sisters of Mercy said in a statement that the terms of the sale were still secret, but that the buyer plans to include “some affordable housing” — which is not required when building as of right — as well as open space. But those vague plans worried some locals, who fear that the developer will only see the property as a cash cow and ignore the community’s calls to include affordable senior housing — or even classrooms, since it is in the most overcrowded school district in the city.
And just last month, Bay Ridge Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge) — whose district line falls just short of the Angel Guardian home — joined the chorus of locals castigating the Sisters of Mercy when he said in his inaugural appearance on our sister publication’s Brooklyn Paper Radio Show that the nuns were “giving our neighborhood the finger as they leave” by making a secret sale that appeared to ignore the needs of the community.
“They sort of made a sale under the cloak of darkness and without any community input,” Brannan said. “And it’s being sold to someone who obviously doesn’t care about what the community is calling for.”
Brannan recently followed up his radio-show comments by penning a letter to the Sisters of Mercy asking them to have mercy on the seniors of the Narrows Center after this paper reported that the Sisters cut the seniors’ lease short, and were forcing them out of the storied building four months early — by Feb. 2 — instead of by the original June end date.
The district manager for Community Board 10 said the board was also disappointed that the developer seemed to be ignoring the community’s needs in its plans for the property.
“With little available open land in the district, when a property of this size becomes available, it is disappointing to hear that neither the school nor — it looks like — senior housing will be placed at the site,” said Josephine Beckmann.