Rockefellers’ Hudson Cliffs Are Backdrop for LG Tower Skirmish
While the New York City suburbs were growing into the most densely populated region of the U.S., New Jersey’s Palisades cliffs remained just as Henry Hudson saw them on his first river voyage past Manhattan in 1609.
Now, a plan by a U.S. unit of LG Electronics Inc. (066570) to build a $300 million headquarters in Englewood Cliffs is pitting the South Korean manufacturer against a group of high-profile opponents who say the building would ruin views of the Palisades, a 200-million-year-old chunk of rocky wilderness above the western shore of the Hudson River.
LG, the world’s second-biggest television maker behind Samsung Electronics Co. (005930), wants a view of the famous New York City skyline. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, four former New Jersey governors and environmentalist Larry Rockefeller, a grandson of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., want to stop the company from getting it.
“There is no place in the world that you can see a space that a 17th century explorer saw,” said Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the museum, whose Cloisters medieval collection is housed across the river from the Palisades. “Only in New Jersey. That’s something to cherish, not to violate.”
Holzer said the museum contacted LG in a December 2012 letter asking the company to reconsider the design. LG hasn’t responded other than to say the letter was received, he said yesterday.
LG Electronics USA, a year behind its construction schedule, says the objections are unfounded. The new building would be tucked behind the quarter-mile of trees between the property and the Palisades, according to John Taylor, a company spokesman.
“It’s not on the cliffs, as you would be led to believe,” he said by telephone from Chicago. One drawing of the building on a company website, LGEnglewoodCliffs.com, shows three floors above the tree line.
“Our plan for this property is to return it, in many ways, to its original native environment,” Taylor said. “We also love the Palisades. We would never do anything to harm the Palisades.”
In a 2012 lawsuit before Superior Court Judge Alexander Carver III in Bergen County, opponents claim Englewood Cliffs wrongly gave permission for LG to build a 143-foot tower in a borough that caps building height at 35 feet (10.6 meters). The complaint was filed by two county residents, Margo Moss and Jakob Franke, plus the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs and Scenic Hudson, a Poughkeepsie, New York-based preservation group.
Hayley Carlock, an attorney representing Scenic Hudson, said yesterday that the parties failed to reach an agreement in mediation. The matter now is pending in Superior Court, with a ruling expected by September, she said. Taylor, the LG spokesman, also said mediation failed.
On June 5, four ex-governors -- Democrats Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio and Republicans Christie Whitman and Thomas H. Kean Sr. -- signed a letter to Koo Bon-Joon, co-vice chairman of Seoul-based LG, asking for a redesign. The Environmental Protection Agency followed up with a June 11 letter to Wayne Park, president and chief executive of LG Electronics USA.
“This view is so important that adverse impacts of construction of high-rise building cannot be condoned,” wrote Judith Enck, the agency’s regional administrator for New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For the first time, Enck wrote, the EPA’s region was withdrawing from a “green” memorandum of understanding, issued to 24 construction projects that incorporate sustainable design.
The plan has also raised objections from Larry Rockefeller, whose grandfather preserved 700 acres atop the Palisades in the 1930s. The cliffs are west of the Cloisters and its surrounding Fort Tryon Park, which sit on land the elder Rockefeller also donated.
Larry Rockefeller, in a voice mail message, referred an inquiry to Mark Izeman, an attorney for the Manhattan-based Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group of which Rockefeller is a trustee. The council is part of a coalition, ProtectThePalisades.org, that encourages activists to contact LG and elected officials.
“This controversy is not just about LG,” Izeman said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It’s about preserving one of America’s important urban natural areas. All Americans, not just those in New Jersey and New York, care about protecting this area.”
The headquarters would replace several buildings LG now uses for offices in Englewood Cliffs. Its property tax payments of about $750,000 annually would jump by an additional $1.6 million, Taylor said. The municipal budget is about $13 million.
Moody’s Investors Service in March 2012 downgraded Englewood Cliffs one step, to Aa2, the third-highest, citing a large volume of tax appeals and “recent pressures on finances.” It affirmed the rating on $5.65 million in debt in June 2012.
LG is threatening to leave the Garden State if it doesn’t get approval and borough officials say the alternative developments could be even taller.
“Continuing and prolonged delays with significant increases to the costs of the project would force us to reconsider other options for the site of the new HQ,” according to the LG website. “This would include looking again at sites outside of New Jersey.”
If LG doesn’t build, Englewood Cliffs might consider a residential high-rise of as many as 40 stories, according to Mayor Joseph Parisi, 53.
“What would stop a large developer that would come in and put up an affordable-housing project?” Parisi said by phone June 26.
The median value of owner-occupied housing in the borough is $1 million, about three times the state median, according to the U.S. Census. Household income is $116,563, or 64 percent higher than the statewide median.
New York politicians have also joined the battle. On June 25, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wrote to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a 50-year-old Republican running for a second term in November, asking him to help “develop a better plan for the company’s expansion.”
Christie’s spokesmen, Michael Drewniak and Colin Reed, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Stringer, Megan Dougherty, said June 28 that the office hadn’t received a response from Christie.
“What I want, more than anything else, is for people to come to my borough as tourists, as visitors, to the cultural institutions we have here,” Diaz, whose borough includes the Wave Hill public gardens, overlooking the cliffs, said by phone. “We’re trying to make the argument that when you look at the Palisades, they’ve been virtually untouched. They’ve looked the same since this country was settled.”
The case is New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs et al, L8875-12, New Jersey Superior Court, Bergen County (Hackensack).
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