Nabe debates future of Angel Guardian Home

October 25, 2017 Meaghan McGoldrick
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The fate of the storied Angel Guardian Home was up for discussion on Saturday, October 21 at the first open public meeting of a group called “Guardians of the Guardian.”

The meeting – which took place in the Regina Conference Center (1210 65th Street, adjacent to Regina Pacis Basilica), where the “Guardians” typically meet – came on the heels of a heated debate as to how the 140,000-square-foot space, located at 6301 12th Avenue, can best serve the community.

According to Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone, requests-for-proposals (RFPs) for the site – which is currently up for sale under the Sisters of Mercy – are now being accepted.

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At the meeting, which was standing room only, 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 that would focus primarily on senior housing, but also feature affordable, for-purchase apartments and a primary school, the first and last of which have been long-fought for as options for the site.

Catholic Charities’ RFP, LoPinto said, currently includes more than 80 affordable senior housing units, more than 90 apartments for sale, a senior center, a rec center, parking and a primary school, the last of which will also include an auditorium and gymnasium that would also be available for community use.

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 it should be developed into a “multi-stage senior housing complex” for area residents who would like to “retire in place.”

“Approximately 20 percent of the people in our community are age 60 and older,” contended Vella-Marrone, adding that the “Guardians” have collected close to 1,000 letters in support of senior housing at the site. “That’s a large portion and, according to a study that the comptroller did, in about 15 years, one in two individuals in this community will be 60 years or older.”

Additionally, she said, the number of seniors on wait lists at nearby senior housing facilities like Shore Hill are in the thousands – “and that’s just people who are on the list.”

Of course, there is argument as well for the site – which comes with at least a half a block of green space – to become a school, as it lies within the boundary lines of District 20, one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city.

While LoPinto’s unveiling focused heavily on housing, he said, education is just as important, stressing, “There is another need in the community and I know sometimes you don’t want to hear about that need because it’s not going to directly benefit you, but it does benefit this community, which has a tremendous need for an educational facility.”

While members of the Guardians lauded LoPinto’s plan, they also made sure to pivot the primary focus of the meeting to the need for senior housing above all else.

“Catholic Charities is right on target with what we need and I pray the Sisters of Mercy have mercy and listen to the monsignor,” said Dr. Anthony Schirripa, a general practitioner and lifelong resident of Dyker Heights. Though, he noted that, in terms of senior housing versus education facilities, the nabe is “way behind the curve.”

“There’s enough schools, not enough senior living space,” Schirripa said.

No matter what the Sisters decide, LoPinto stressed, the chosen buyer must be up for a challenge. “We have already done an analysis of the exterior building and I want to be very up front with you – they’re not salvageable. The cost of having to convert any one of these buildings would be astronomical, because the only thing that you may be able to keep would be the façade.”

When asked to speak to Catholic Charities’ plan to finance the project and target incomes for the planned for-purchase and for-rent apartments, LoPinto said that the affordable senior housing would likely involve a tax credit program and, as for the other pieces, “There are different programs that the city and state have that we’ll be tapping into for the apartments that will be for sale.”

As for the range of incomes, LoPinto said, the current target is, at the low end, 30 percent and the high end, 130 percent of area median income.

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.

Catholic Charities’ proposal – made “as need” so as not to go against current zoning requirements in hopes that it will allow for “further negotiation” and hopefully, room to expand – is now in the hands of the sellers.

The deadline for RFPs was Wednesday, October 25.

In terms of further planning, Vella-Marrone assured, “As things occur, [the Guardians] will have more public meetings.”

“The power of the people is the strongest power we have here in this neighborhood,” lauded Guardians member Frank Grassi, in awe of the size and span of audience. “Your opinion counts. Use it.”

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