By Brendan T. Byrne, Thomas H. Kean, James J. Florio and Christine Todd Whitman
The New York Times
March 24, 2014
THE Palisades, a treasured American landmark, are under threat. The consumer electronics maker LG Electronics USA is preparing to construct a towering headquarters building along the Hudson River north of the George Washington Bridge, breaking the natural sweep of parkland and scenic vistas.
The project would set an unfortunate precedent for the construction of more high-rises along the ancient cliffs. But despite mounting public concern, this global manufacturer of TVs and appliances has refused to consider alternative designs that would preserve the historic setting.
The cliffs of the Palisades, which rise up from the Hudson as high as 500 feet, were formed 200 million years ago from molten rock fed by volcanic eruptions. More than a century ago, in the face of threats from builders and rock quarries, the states of New Jersey and New York created the Palisades Interstate Park to protect the scenic beauty of these ramparts.
Later, land atop the cliffs, extending 12 miles upriver in New Jersey from the George Washington Bridge, was also protected as parkland, a critical addition because protecting the cliffs alone was not enough. Despite the growth along the Palisades, none of the park’s residential, commercial or industrial neighbors has built above the tree line.
As former governors of New Jersey, we fully recognize the importance of economic development. But we also strongly believe that there is a way for LG to have all of its desired office space and new jobs while protecting the Palisades. The company can achieve those goals by choosing a low-rise design for its 27-acre tract and building within a 35-foot height limit respected for decades by all other companies next to the park.
We wrote last June to LG’s vice chairman and chief executive officer, Bon-Joon Koo, to propose just such a “win-win” alternative. While we received no response from the company’s world headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, the president of LG Electronics USA at the time, Wayne Park, replied that our concern was mistaken, as the building “would barely peak above the tree line.” In fact, the 143-foot-tall building, to be built in Englewood Cliffs, which approved this zoning variation for its longtime corporate resident, would rise approximately 80 feet above a thin row of trees and be starkly visible from all directions, including the adjacent Palisades Parkway. Mr. Park also dismissed our low-rise proposal — even though LG’s own architect, Kenneth Drucker, acknowledged at a hearing in Englewood Cliffs that the company had enough space on its site to “take the entire building and put it on its side.”
But rather than build horizontally, LG decided to build a tower because “they wanted to take advantage of the beauty of the site, the views of the site,” he said.
In other words, LG would take for its own private benefit the Palisades’ natural beauty and unspoiled views — which belong to the public.
We’re not alone in calling for LG to choose a low-rise design.
The regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Judith A. Enck, has compared LG’s plan “to building an office tower on the rim of the Grand Canyon.”
And the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan B. Jarvis, recently wrote to the planning board in Englewood Cliffs that LG’s plan “threatens the nationally significant, historic scenic integrity of the Palisades in a major way” and would “introduce a massive incompatible feature that will be visible for miles along the river.”
With the future of the Palisades — a pride of New Jersey, an interstate park and a celebrated national landmark — at stake, we remain hopeful that LG will do the right thing and redesign the building. The solution is clear: Build out rather than up. Generate jobs and economic stimulus while conserving the area’s scenic beauty.
The building can be redesigned. The Palisades and the Hudson River cannot.