In no more than three sentences, the Sisters of Mercy have confirmed that the storied Angel Guardian Home – a 140,000-square-foot Dyker Heights institution that, since the early 1900s, has taken in countless orphans, becoming a formal adoption agency in the 1970s – has indeed been sold.
There have been talks of both senior housing and a school at the site, though news of its sale comes with no real relief for advocates of either.
“The Sisters of Mercy signed a sales agreement for the Angel Guardian property in Brooklyn,” Debbi Della Porta, director of communications for the Sisters, told this paper. She stressed that the buyer – whose information is being withheld by the order due to an alleged confidentiality agreement – “shares our goals that the property will continue to benefit the local community and includes some affordable housing and open space.”
“Some?” asked Dyker Heights resident Frank Grassi, who is a member of a group called the “Guardians of the Guardian.” “What exactly is affordable and who exactly is it affordable to?”
The “Guardians” – which first made headlines in August, 2016 as a group of about a dozen neighbors of the home whose goal is to protect and preserve the 115-year-old building – feel the property should be developed into a “multi-stage senior housing complex” for area residents who would like to “retire in place.”
In late October when requests-for-proposals (RFPs) were being accepted by the Sisters, the “Guardians” hosted a standing-room-only public meeting at the Regina Conference Center (1210 65th Street) to discuss how the city-block sized property, located at 6301 12th Avenue, could and should serve the community.
There, Monsignor Alfred LoPinto, CEO of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, and Vicar for Human Services for the Diocese of Brooklyn, unveiled Catholic Charities’ RFP – a mixed-bag focusing primarily on senior housing, but also featuring affordable, for-purchase apartments and a primary school, the first and last of which have been long fought for as options for the site.
That plan – which would have included more than 80 affordable senior housing units, more than 90 apartments for sale, a senior center, a rec center, parking and a primary school, among other amenities – is reportedly not the one the Sisters have chosen.
“The community loses when deals are made in secret,” said Councilmember-elect Justin Brannan. “Whether it’s affordable senior housing, desperately needed public school seats or both, we must ensure that the Angel Guardian site is put to the absolute best possible use, and remains a valuable space for the entire neighborhood. Luxury condos that nobody can afford and half-hearted promises of affordable housing are not on our Dear Santa list.”
“To be completely honest, we’re kind of miffed,” said Grassi. “The nuns have not been forthcoming with the community in terms of telling us who the buyer is, what the other offers were, who got the bid, why they took it – really anything.”
Furthermore, Grassi told this paper, when he and other members of the “Guardians” began pressing the Sisters on their decision, all they got was “stalling.”
“They had their public relations person get back to us and they were all very cloaked,” he explained. “Nothing was ever actually said. It was always ‘We’ll keep in contact,’ “We’ll let you know,’ and now it’s just ‘We have a buyer.’ Nobody is answering any of our questions.”
Dyker Heights Civic Association President and supporter of the “Guardians” Fran Vella-Marrone has found herself asking the same questions. “At this point, we just want to know what’s going on,” she told this paper.
The site was built in 1902, according to city records, and served as an extension of the Convent of Mercy, housing hundreds of orphans and eventually acting as a formal adoption agency until the 1970s.
In 2003, the Angel Guardian Home merged with St. Mary’s of the Angels Home to form the MercyFirst network of agencies. Up until late last year, the campus – which spans the entire block – housed the offices for the Sisters’ foster care program as well as a senior center.
The Dyker Heights community bid adieu to the institution at a November, 2016 goodbye party, during which employees, former volunteers and past residents were able to reminisce in preparation for Angel Guardian’s office’s eventual move to Industry City in Sunset Park.
Both Grassi and Vella-Marrone agree that, when it comes to a property of this magnitude for a community, confidentiality agreements shouldn’t come into play.
“We just really want to know what’s going on because the information that we’ve been given is extremely vague,” said Vella-Marrone. “We know that there are privacy concerns but, let’s be real, this is a very big property that’s going to affect very many people in this community and we should be given more information. What we have been given at this point is not acceptable.”
“We have a real reason to concern ourselves because, let’s face it, this is something that’s going to affect the entire community,” added Grassi. “There’s really been no impact study as to what it might create in the community if that space does become, say, a school or a shopping center.
“We’re just saying to let us know, this way, we can try to work with you,” he went on.
The deadline for RFPs for the site was October 25. It is unclear at this time just how many proposals the Sisters received, or really, what comes next for Angel Guardian.