On July 21, 2022, the Jacob Dangler House at 441 Willoughby Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, was demolished less than two weeks after the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing to consider its designation as an Individual Landmark. Despite the attempt by Landmarks to save the Dangler House by commencing the designation process, the Commission has been criticized for not acting quickly enough. Could Landmarks have actually done more?
Dangler House Demolition Timeline
The Landmarks Preservation Commission originally calendared Dangler House for consideration as an Individual Landmark on June 7, 2022. The calendaring was a last-minute addition to Landmarks’ June 7 agenda, spurred by support from local City Council Member Chi Ossé.
As CityLand previously reported, Landmarks was aware prior to calendaring that the home’s owner had actively been seeking a demolition permit from the Department of Buildings. Landmarks Chair Sarah Carroll shared at the calendaring that based on “concern that a [Buildings] permit may be imminent, I would like to recommend that we vote to calendar this item to allow us more time to consider the significance and continue to work with the property owners to understand the issues around the site and the [Buildings] process.”
Two days later on June 9th, the Department of Buildings confirmed with CityLand that they accepted a completed demolition permit application from developer Tomer Erlich of Brooklyn 360. Buildings Press Secretary Andrew Rudansky explained that Buildings is required by local law to answer all completed applications within 40 days. Additionally, there is no discretionary approval for Buildings applications; if an application complies with applicable codes and zoning, it must be approved. This means that even if Buildings wanted to preserve the Dangler House, they were legally required to approve Brooklyn 360’s completed application by July 19th.
Rudansky further noted that Buildings was in open communication with Landmarks throughout Brooklyn 360’s entire application process.
It is thus reasonable to assume that Landmarks was fully aware both that Buildings was reviewing the demolition application and that Buildings had to approve the demolition permit by July 19th.
On July 12, 2022, Landmarks heard testimony concerning the Dangler House at a public hearing. Tomer Erlich’s attorney, Eliad Shapiro, testified on his behalf at the hearing that Landmarks “rushed its review of the premises without due diligence,” providing “minimal time and information to Brooklyn 360.” Shapiro requested that Landmarks “adjourn the public hearing on this matter to a later date”. However, the majority of speakers at the public hearing supported designation.
Preservation consultant and NYU adjunct professor Kelly Carroll explained that while Landmarks’ exact timeline varies depending on the amount of work involved, holding a public hearing a month after calendaring is “extremely quick.” Since Landmarks only has a year by law to designate calendar items, Landmarks is cautious about what they calendar because they want enough time and resources to make a designation decision. Kelly Carroll believes the Commission was “absolutely committed” to landmarking the Dangler House when they decided to calendar it due to the quick public hearing.
Landmarks unanimously closed the July 12 public hearing without holding a vote to designate the Dangler House. “We will absorb everything we’ve heard, we will continue to speak to the owners…and we will bring this item back for a vote very shortly,” stated Chair Sarah Carroll. While public hearings are required under the Landmarks Law, there is nothing expressly dictating when designation votes must be held.
At Landmarks’ next meeting on July 19, 2022, there was no additional action taken on the Dangler House. On the same day, Brooklyn 360 obtained their Buildings demolition permit, exactly 40 days after the completed application was submitted.
Legal Precedent to Designate at Public Hearing
Based on precedent, Kelly Carroll was surprised Landmarks chose not to designate the Dangler House immediately after testimony concluded at the public hearing on July 12. Kelly Carroll emphasized that although it is rare, Landmarks is free to immediately designate in emergency situations. In 2018, Carroll explained, the Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House was designated as an Individual Landmark the same day as its public hearing. Like the Dangler House, this Sunset Park mansion was in immediate danger of demolition, and cheers erupted from the community at Landmarks’ surprise designation.
Then-Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan explained the surprise move: “We fulfilled what was required under the landmarks law, to hold a hearing, with holding this hearing today, but given the sensitivity of both the fact that there are permits that are in play and have not been issued as yet and the fact that we’ve received significant support . . . I would recommend that we designate it today, and we have a resolution here. Our role is not just to come in and stop development, but when there’s an important building at stake I think it’s important that we act.” Landmarks General Counsel Mark Silberman was present at the 2018 proceeding and raised no legal objections.
CityLand reached out to Landmarks multiple times to see if a similar emergency designation was considered for the Dangler House. Landmarks did not respond for comment. Brownstoner also reported that Landmarks declined to give a statement about the Dangler House on the day of the demolition, telling press to call the Mayor’s Office for comment instead.
Kelly Carroll expressed that in terms of precedent, it is unusual for Landmarks to not publicly defend its actions. Carroll noted Landmarks’ transparency in handling a similar demolition in March 2022. Much like the Jacob Dangler House, the Walentyna and Aleksander Janta-Polczynski House in Elmhurst, Queens received outspoken landmark support from the community, the neighborhood City Council Member, and the local Community Board.
However, when the Janta-Polczynski House was demolished, Landmarks Research Director Kate Lemos McHale released a two-page letter acknowledging advocates’ feelings and explaining why the Commission chose not to calendar it for Individual Landmark consideration. Kelly Carroll emphasized that unlike the Dangler House, this property was never calendared, yet Landmarks quickly crafted a response. “The fact remains that deferring comment to City Hall is, by every notion, categorically strange, especially when the LPC typically defends its policy choices itself.” Carroll explained.
Conclusion and Call to Action
Landmarks legally could have designated Dangler House either on July 12 or July 19, and by not doing so allowed the developer time to demolish the building. Council Member Chi Ossé’s office told CityLand that Landmarks told him they delayed the Dangler House vote by a week at the developer’s request. In retrospect, Landmarks clearly erred by continuing to speak to the developer in good faith.
Although Landmarks was not legally required to act directly after closing the public hearing, they had precedent to do so along with the overwhelming support of neighborhood stakeholders. In addition, it’s clear from the quick calendaring and public hearing that Landmarks was moving toward designation and did not need more time to evaluate the property’s merits.
There are clear questions as to why Landmarks didn’t act to save the Dangler House before it was demolished; what reasoning did the developer give Landmarks for delaying a vote; and whether Landmarks was safe to approve the developer’s request to delay the vote given the pending demolition permit application. The question also remains if such a request to delay was made in bad faith.
Therefore, in the interest of transparency, as they have done many times before, Landmarks should speak out about the mansion’s designation process and all events leading up to the demolition, specifically addressing the community members who worked to save it. The City and the Council should also review this matter and consider policy approaches and possible changes to the Landmarks Law to avoid destruction of calendared properties in the future.
By: Cassidy Strong (Cassidy is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.), and co-authored by Brian Kaszuba (Brian is the managing editor of CityLand and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2004) and Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)