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Contested expansion approved for Crown Heights mansion with Mark Twain ties

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The building has ties that date back to around 1870

The 19th-century mansion at 839 Saint Marks Avenue in the Crown Heights North Historic District—notable because Mark Twain once stayed there—has received approval for an expansion. According to the New York Post, the Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the okay for a developer to surround the free-standing mansion with a new building that will house apartments, with 45 being designated for the mentally ill and another 30 for affordable housing.

Despite the good intentions for the building, residents are angry at the news. The Gothic-style house has been owned by the nonprofit the Institute for Community Living since 1998. Neighbors believe that the group is attempting to eventually flip property for a large profit, even comparing it to the Rivington House nursing home scandal.

Derrick Hilbertz of the St. Marks Independent Block Association is calling for a reversal of the LPC’s decision. In court papers, Hilbertz states that the planned building will take up space where the historic formal garden sits, eventually demolishing it. "Our fear is that they destroy this garden, build a building, then they get a deed change," he stated. The garden’s unique details include a stone amphitheater, sundial, and herringbone masonry pathways.

Hilbertz argues that the Institute owns more than a dozen other properties that aren’t historically protected and would be more suitable to build on. The city says that it will review the complaint.