In a landmark announcement today, NRDC and its coalition partners have reached an agreement with LG Electronics to support a revised design for the company's new North American headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey -- a plan that would protect the magnificent vistas of the historic Palisades Park while supporting the local economy.
Under the agreement, the originally proposed 143 foot LG headquarters building would instead rise to 69 feet, a more than 50% reduction in height.
BEFORE & AFTER
Above is a rendering of what the LG office building would have looked like from the George Washington Bridge if constructed at its originally proposed height.
And below that is same view of the new low building design from the Bridge with the vistas of the Palisades protected under the agreement announced today.
The Palisades is a pristine stretch of land along the west bank of the Hudson River running through northeastern New Jersey and Southern New York. The cliffs and ridge tops of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge are unbroken for 16 miles - one of few remaining tracts of natural beauty in the nation's densest metropolitan region.
In addition to their regional significance, the Palisades are also important nationally. They have the rare dual distinction of being designated a National Natural Landmark as well as a National Historic Landmark. With a few minor exceptions, the Palisades north of the bridge encompass a landscape little different from the time that Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River in 1609.
The agreement between LG and the coalition groups - which also includes Scenic Hudson, the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs, the Jersey Conservation Foundation and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference - was hammered out after almost a year of negotiations.
This controversy began in late 2011 when Englewood Cliffs granted LG a zoning "variance" to construct a 143-foot headquarters - more than four times the 35 foot zoning height limit and well above the tree line of the Palisades.
If built, this would have been the first structure north of Fort Lee to rise above the ridgeline of these historic and beautiful cliffs -spoiling parkland and vistas enjoyed by millions on both sides of the Hudson River.
In March 2012, two local citizens filed suit against Englewood Cliffs for granting this variance. And later that year, in December 2012, Scenic Hudson, the New Jersey State Federation of Woman's Clubs and two additional local residents joined this case as interveners to strike down the zoning variance.
In August 2013, a lower court state judge upheld the variance, but that ruling was appealed to the state's three-judge intermediate court. This appeal remains pending before that court today and no oral argument has taken place. Numerous groups - including NRDC - as well as elected officials filed amicus or "friend of the court" briefs supporting the suit to revoke the variance.
At the end of 2012, a coalition of individuals and organizations created a new "Protect the Palisades" Coalition. Its goal: to preserve the Hudson River Palisades long-term, and seek to convince LG Electronics to rethink its plans for its new headquarters that would allow the company to stay Englewood Cliffs - and create the same amount of office space and jobs - without ruining the viewscape and Park. The campaign also supported LG's efforts to obtain LEED certification - a national green building certification program - for its new headquarters if the iconic vistas of the Palisades were protected.
This was the not the first time citizens had rallied to protect the Palisades. As early as 1890, residents of New York and New Jersey launched a campaign to protect the Palisades cliffs when quarries and other uses threatened to degrade the landscape. The New Jersey Federation of Woman's Clubs took up the charge and organized a campaign that eventually led to the creation of the Palisades Interstate Park in 1900. Later, in the early 1930s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., acquired and donated the area protected as a park today, with a specific objective of saving the viewshed.
Supporters of the Palisades litigation and Protect the Palisades campaign encompassed a remarkable swath of individuals and groups, including: four former New Jersey governors (two Republicans and two Democrats); six New Jersey mayors from neighboring towns; the editorial boards of New Jersey's two leading newspapers - the Bergen Record and the Newark Star-Ledger - as well the New York Daily News and The New York Times; leading New Jersey state senators; New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and several other top elected officials in New York City and State. Also supporting these efforts were many of the nation's and region's top environmental groups.
In unusual moves, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service also weighed in against the 143 feet building. And the U.S Green Building Council - the non-profit entity that administers the LEED green building rating system - raised strong concerns about the old design.
According to LG, the new 69-foot building design aspires for LEED Platinum certification - the top tier of LEED. They also note that this new headquarters will allow the company to continue to contribute significantly to the local economic and tax base - estimated $26 million in direct, indirect and induced recurring revenues, including thousands of much-needed local construction jobs.
So what happens next?
LG will submit a revised building plan in the coming months to Englewood Cliffs that includes the new 69-foot building design, along with other site and building design changes.
Assuming this new plan if approved, Scenic Hudson and New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs, along with the two residents who joined their intervention in the case, agree to withdraw their pending legal appeal to overturn zoning approvals in Englewood Cliffs.
All of the conservation groups, including NRDC, also pledged to work with LG to secure the necessary revised municipal approvals so the project can move forward as expeditiously as possible. And of course all the parties will work to ensure that the building is constructed in accordance with the final agreement.
At the same time, Palisades Campaign will also turn its attention back to state legislation that was introduced last year by New Jersey Senators Bob Smith (D) - the Chairman of the Environment Committee - and Senator Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R) to limit development in towns along the New Jersey portion of the Hudson River Palisades to low-rise buildings. (The Assembly introduced companion legislation led by Assemblyman John McKeon.)
If enacted, this bill would put in more permanent protection for the Palisades and help prevent the type of local zoning battle that took place in Englewood Cliffs.
Today's announcement is a testament to LG and all parties' commitment to find a solution that both protects this iconic landmark and benefits the local economy. Preserving the cliffs and these majestic Hudson River views more than a century ago marked an early milestone of the conservation movement in America. This agreement shows we can keep this tradition alive in the 21st century when we work together to find common ground.