Dust particles clouded the air at 441 Willoughby Avenue last week as workers hauled truckloads of old wood, bricks and other debris out of a beloved 120-year-old mansion.
The contaminated air was bothersome to nearby residents and members of the Willoughby Nostrand Marcy Block Association, but it also served as a warning that their worst fears could soon materialize: the mansion on the corner of Willoughby and Nostrand could be demolished and turned into condos.
Private real estate developer Brooklyn 360 is in the process of buying the building—rich in the neighborhood's history—and has filed a permit for demolition with the city Department of Buildings. If the permit is approved, Brooklyn 360 will put new condos, including affordable units, in its place.
Tomer Erlich of Brooklyn 360 said that despite what some neighbors think, the demolition of the building hasn't started yet since the permit hasn't been approved and the sale of the building hasn't closed yet.
What's happening, Erlich said, is just clearing the house of debris as part of an agreement with its current owner, the Oriental Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star.
"Right now we're just doing some cleaning because there is so much garbage and stuff that needs to be moved out from the property," Erlich said.
"We're waiting for the application for demolition that we submitted to the DOB to go through. We didn't close on it yet, but we're working together with [the current owners] and waiting for it to close."
While Erlich said the site is just getting cleared of debris, WNMBA member Lauren, who requested to go only by her first name, said the move seems like a jumpstart on the demolition process since the materials going in the dump truck include brick, drywall and wood beams.
"You can see through the roof of it now, and you couldn't see through the roof before," Lauren said.
"What's so frustrating about it is that there's no approval on the demolition yet. There are no signs posted at the site and there's no new DOB information. What scares me is that if they're already being shady about it and cutting corners and the demolition hasn't even officially begun, then what's it going to look like when it does?”
WNMBA members filed unauthorized work claims against Brooklyn 360 to 311, and, for now, it seems like work on the building has stopped.
Lauren also said the lack of dust control was a concern since it is possible the building has toxic lead paint or asbestos, though Erlich has said that is not the case. On April 29, an Environmental Protection Agency employee was at the building taking notes.
The WNMBA applied to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on behalf of the building in January when rumors spread that the lot had been sold in hopes of officially landmarking the building to preserve it for its architectural individuality and historical significance.
Landmark status would be the only thing preventing developers from demolishing the building. The chances of getting official landmark status are low but not zero, since the LPC did signal that the building could merit landmark status.
Over 900 people have signed a petition in favor of preserving the building.
"We can't satisfy everyone, you know? At the end of the day, it's private property," Erlich said.
Should the demolition be approved, Erlich said he is open to discussion with the block association.
"But, if we can do things for the community, we always will."