Tower Threatens Palisades' Majesty

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 -- Scenic Hudson

LG Tower from GWBSimulation of the proposed LG Headquarters building as seen from the George Washington Bridge


Palisades Interstate Park—designated both a National Historic Landmark and a National Natural Landmark—is perhaps the most iconic natural vista in the New York metropolitan area. Unfortunately, a proposed high-rise office tower by LG Electronics in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, threatens the Palisades viewshed.

In early 2012, the Englewood Cliffs Zoning Board approved a variance application allowing LG to construct a 143-foot-tall corporate headquarters atop the Palisades ridge. The proposed tower would be prominently visible above the treeline, destroying the unbroken natural vista along the Hudson River's western shoreline and potentially opening the door for further high-rise development.

At the time the LG variance application was made and approved, the permitted height for commercial buildings in the subject zone was limited to 35 feet—making the LG tower four times taller than the permitted height. In light of this, local citizens objecting to the zoning board approval filed suit, challenging the grant of variance relief. That case remains, pending a judge's decision.

During the course of that litigation, Englewood Cliffs took measures to ensure that development of the proposed tower ensued. The borough introduced an amendment to the zoning ordinance in August 2012 that allows for structures of up to 150 feet on lot sizes greater than 25 acres. As the proposed LG tower is located on a lot of more than 27 acres, it would be permitted under the new zoning.

Scenic Hudson—along with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs and two individual residents of Englewood Cliffs—filed a lawsuit challenging the zoning amendment as illegal spot zoning to benefit a single developer. The groups also have intervened in the ongoing lawsuit regarding the initial zoning variance that allowed LG to build to a height of 143 feet.

Buttressing this legal challenge, Scenic Hudson also has joined Protect the Palisades, a growing coalition of environmental and civic organizations from New York and New Jersey dedicated to preserving the Palisades. Protect the Palisades is calling on LG to be a responsible corporate citizen and redesign its corporate headquarters to a height below the treeline.

The majestic Palisades define the natural beauty of the lower Hudson Valley. Efforts to protect them date back to the late 19th century, when New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt halted quarrying operations in the Palisades. They have been celebrated by two centuries of artists and are appreciated today by millions of people recreating on the Hudson River, traveling on Amtrak or Metro-North's Hudson Line, and visiting important parks and historic sites such as Wave Hill, the Cloisters and the Yonkers waterfront. In addition to supporting the regional tourism economy, these world-class vistas increase nearby property values and help sustain the special sense of place enjoyed by all who live near them.

Protect the Palisades believes there's an opportunity for a win-win solution: LG's 27-acre site offers ample space to construct a lower, longer building. This design would provide the required office space and economic benefits of the tower while preserving the Palisades' scenic integrity.

Protect the Palisades and Alpine, New Jersey, Mayor Paul Tomasko hosted a rally in May calling for LG to respect the legacy of the Palisades and preserve one of the last pristine areas in the Garden State. The coalition also organized an event at a popular eatery and rest stop along Route 9W atop the Palisades. Ninety-four percent of the hikers, bikers, cyclists and locals who stopped by signed a petition opposing construction of the tower in its present form.

During the past month, four former governors of New Jersey together wrote to LG urging that it lower the height of the building; the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, a member of Protect the Palisades, helped secure the letter. In addition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its support for the project as a “green building” because its height would disrupt the natural beauty of the Palisades, and The New York Times, New Jersey Star-Ledger, New York Daily News and Bergen Record published editorials demanding that LG not spoil the Palisades with its planned tower.

For decades, all other companies and boroughs north of Fort Lee have respected the Palisades Interstate Park and its unspoiled vistas by maintaining restrictions on building heights. Protect the Palisades is concerned that if the LG building is permitted to go forward at its proposed height, it will set a precedent for high-rise towers to begin cropping up further north along the ridgeline, ruining the magnificent view and legacy of the Palisades. Working together, this diverse and passionate coalition will continue to support a balanced approach that respects over 100 years of effort to safeguard this natural treasure.

Learn more about this coalition here You also can find Protect the Palisades on Facebook and Twitter.