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Board Agrees to Residential Addition for Historic UWS Church

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Usually additions to historic buildings or church-to-condo conversions cause outrage in neighborhoods, but that's not the case for the Upper West Side's 121-year-old Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. Members of Community Board 7 somewhat shockingly agreed to the Landmarks Preservation Commission's approval last week of a DXA-Studio designed residential addition to the historic church at 142 West 81st Street. On Monday, the full board agreed to a resolution approving the project on their end with some changes.

The project involves adding two stories to the five story church, with seven to 10 residential units on the second through seventh floors. The congregation will use the first floor and lower level, amounting to 10,000 square feet of space "similar to the actual usable space within the original structure" according to the board's written resolution. As such, stained glass windows on the side walls will be reinstalled at the first floor. More dramatically the rear facade would be modernized with a prominent glass wall. Importantly, though some changes will be made, the existing front facade of the church won't come down.

Gabrielle Palitz, who co-chairs CB7's preservation committee told the larger board the resolution involved minor changes and that ultimately the project is an agreeable way to help restore the church. "It's really a very sensitive project for the most part," she said. The congregation has relocated for more than a year because the building has deteriorated. Building the units will help the church get going again, said the other preservation co-chair Jay Adolph. "They'll be able to fund the repair and restoration and the configuration and they'll be able to get back into their space," he said.

Adolph said the project is uncontroversial because the church's front façade will stay churchy while the residential units will be out of sight. "Everybody was happy the church was surviving," he said. The back of the building will have a church lobby and a residential lobby. The upper addition will be sloped away from the street on both sides, partially covered by the church façade, to lessen its visibility. The sloping planes are described as metal and "warm gray" terracotta rain screens in front of "ultra-clear 'star fire' glazing'" glass sloped walls. On that, a green roof.

Though Palitz spoke in a favorable tone when addressing the full board, she did mention that the resolution included a few changes. For instance, that terracotta rain band would be reddish brown similar to the existing roof shingles, not some "warm gray." The residential side walls atop the church walls would be oxide charcoal gray brick as planned but the infill would be lighter in color. More importantly (because it's in bold print in the resolution) the rear façade would be scaled down in congruence with the neighboring rear facades "possibly through use of additional framing elements."
—Shannon Ayala
· 121-Year-Old Upper West Side Church Will Add Apartments [Curbed]
· UWS Church May Gain Two Stories and Seven Apartments [Curbed]