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Natural and Historic Legacies of Palisades Landscape Deserve Respect on Home Ground
Source:New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
PC Region:New Jersey
A little more than a century ago, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs fought to prevent quarry companies from destroying the scenic Palisades cliffs. The states of New Jersey and New York formed the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and the United States Congress ratified the bistate pact. Prominent families stepped in to purchase lands and donate them to the park. Eventually, the Trail Conference got involved creating trails at the top and bottom of the cliffs. The Palisades Interstate Park is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and a National Natural Landmark, as well as a New Jersey Scenic Byway.
For a century, municipalities north of Fort Lee, home to I-80 and the George Washington Bridge have been good stewards of this rare Bergen county open space, preventing tall office buildings from looming over the park. All was well, until 2011. That’s when the mayor of the borough of Englewood Cliffs encouraged LG Electronics, a giant ($50 billion in 2011 sales) consumer electronics company, to relocate its various offices into a single campus on a 27-acre, previously developed property located across the Parkway from the Palisades Interstate Park. Unfortunately, the plans revealed that the campus included an ill-advised 145-foot tall tower, more than quadrupling the 35-foot zoning limitation.
At the planning board hearings, many concerns over the visual impact on the park were summarily dismissed. Our own Board member, Dan Chazin, clearly warned that
“… these cliffs were preserved in large part to protect the views from the river and New York. Of course, in addition to people in New Jersey enjoying them and being able to walk along the cliffs, the preservation of the view is a very important point. … the building is too high and the height should be reduced in some way. Because this would be the first intrusion of a building north of Fort Lee. And also the fact that the building is built of glass … makes it even more visible with glare and other factors, and makes it fit in even less to the environment … .
Unfortunately, the many concerns echoing those of Board member Chazin’s, were not taken seriously. The borough issued what amounted to a “spot-zoning” variance which was then challenged in court by local citizens. To avoid the “spot-zoning” claim, the borough then created a zone overlay allowing tall office buildings almost two miles north of the George Washington Bridge.
Recognizing that the prospect of a single skyscraper looming above the Palisades Interstate Park was morphing into a catastrophic prospect of more than a mile of skyscrapers, the Trail Conference joined the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs and Scenic Hudson in filing a lawsuit against the larger zone and joining the local spot-zoning lawsuit.
In the ensuing months, LG along with borough and county officials, have gone public touting the benefits of the building to the local economy and belittling detractors as outsiders only interested in views from across the river in New York.
The Trail Conference’s logic is that, since there are very few pristine vistas in this, the most densely developed region in the nation, we should be very assertive in protecting each one. Just as we focus our invasive plant management on relatively un-invaded parklands in order to maintain their botanical integrity, we need to focus on visual invasions to viewsheds to maintain the scenic integrity of our favorite parklands. Just as the development of Fort Lee south is being used as justification of this building, this building will be used as justification for more tall buildings along the Palisades, and more, and more.
So the height of this building is really important. What is at stake is whether or not the citizens and visitors in this region at the turn of the next century can enjoy the Palisades park as we do.
We ask LG and the borough reduce the height of the building to well below tree level. Just changing the floor height from 18-feet to a more typical 12-feet would make the building less than 100-feet tall. And, with 27-acres available, there is more room to expand horizontally without compromising capacity.
Supporters of the current design call it a win-win for the economy and the environment, citing the project’s goal of LEED certification. But that is not the opinion of the coalition of diverse groups mobilized against the building’s height. Reducing the height to minimize the visual impact would make it a true win-win, validating LG’s decades-long presence as a corporate citizen of New Jersey and the region. Such a decision by LG would be in keeping with the generations who have worked and contributed to preserving this precious landscape.
My hope is that, as a consumer electronics and appliance company, LG Electronics will listen to public opinion. A company that makes smart phones can build a smart building. But they need to hear from all of us, right now, loud and clear and continuously until they make the right decision.
You can help by responding to our alerts on this issue and joining our coalition at www.protectthepalisades.org.