One of the most recognizable buildings in the Crown Heights North Historic District, a High Victorian Gothic rock-faced brownstone called the Dean Sage House, could soon undergo significant changes.
Located at 839 St. Marks Avenue, right across the street from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, it was built for the aforementioned lumber magnate, a friend of Mark Twain, in 1869-70.
The house was purchased in 1998 by the nonprofit Institute for Community Living and currently houses developmentally disabled adults.
Changes were first proposed in March 2016. The owners wanted to tear down a three-story back extension facing Brooklyn Avenue. In its place would be an L-shaped building with supportive and affordable housing that would rise five stories, with a sixth set back, and that would wrap around the north and east sides of the building.
After the LPC determined “no action” on the developer’s initial proposal, a return visit a month later proved successful, if not significantly different. The part of the building that will face Brooklyn Avenue will now rise a full six stories, while the part of the building that will face St. Marks Avenue will now have four full stories with a fifth set back, as seen below.
Dattner Architects and Easton Architects are behind the design, which will connect the new building to the Dean Sage House. The section of the new building that wraps around the east side, facing St. Marks Avenue, will shorten the house’s side garden.
During a recent visit, green construction walls were already erected along the west side of the building, facing Brooklyn Avenue. There were no obvious signs of visible work, and the three-story addition has yet to be demolished.
Since the proposal was approved by the LPC, local groups such as the Crown Heights North Association and the St. Marks Independent Block Association have expressed concern over the planned expansion of the Dean Sage House, feeling that it will “destroy the mansion’s formal gardens,” and “architecturally overwhelm the mansion and the historic streetscape,” the groups told Bklyner in a statement in February.
The decision fits with a recent trend of the LPC approving bigger and non-contextual changes to landmarked buildings and historic districts, according to preservationists.
In 2016, community groups filed an Article 78 legal challenge to the development titled LPC vs. Derrick Hilbertz, as Our Time Press details. It is still winding through the courts.
A judge ordered a stop work order in November 2017 to prevent destruction of the property’s formal garden, Bklyner reported. In December, the judge suggested decreasing the size of the proposed building, but ICL nixed this because of financing concerns. The judge then asked the two parties to the legal action to compromise.
The amount of construction going on in Brooklyn is “unsettling,” reducing open space and sunlight, a Crown Heights local told Brownstoner.
“I need to walk on green grass and see trees,” she said.
[Photos by Craig Hubert]
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