Company’s Spire on Palisades Draws Ire of Governors, ‘Greens,’ Investors

Tom Johnson | April 29, 2014 | Energy & Environment
At almost 150 feet, LG Electronics' new HQ tower will radically alter the view of the Palisades -- if it ever gets built

Former N.J. Gov. Jim Florio
The Legislature is joining the fray over whether an electronics company can build a huge new office tower overlooking the Palisades in Englewood Cliffs, a project opposed by four former governors and officials in six neighboring towns.

The project by LG Electronics, a South Korean manufacturer, calls for a 143-foot office tower to be built, far taller than the 35-foot standard in neighboring towns along the Palisades — which have the rare distinction of being designated as both a national historic landmark and a national natural landmark.

If the project is allowed to move forward, critics say it will destroy the iconic views of the Palisades Interstate Park, rising 80 feet above the tree line, forever changing an unspoiled prospect that has awed generations.

That view is supported by some lawmakers who plan to introduce a bill that would create a maximum building height of 35 feet, extending through the towns of Englewood Cliffs, Tenafly, and Alpine.

Former Gov. Jim Florio, who appeared at a hearing before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee yesterday in the Statehouse Annex, strongly backed the proposed bill, saying it is totally consistent with the history of preserving the Palisades.

“The major tragedy here is this controversy is needless,’’ Florio told the committee, saying there is ample room on the company’s 27-acre site to design a low-profile building to accommodate its corporate headquarters.

In a written statement, former Gov. Christine Whitman agreed, saying the project could easily be built on the 27-acre site.

“We support economic growth for New Jersey and propose a win-win solution that maintains the same economic benefits for the region while protecting the magnificent Palisades, a national landmark of which New Jersey can be particularly proud,’’ she said.

Besides Florio and Whitman, former Gov. Brendan Byrne and Gov. Thomas Kean also have spoken out against the project in a bipartisan agreement on a pressing environmental issue.

But a spokesman for LG Electronics said the company is moving forward with its plans.

John Taylor, a vice president at the company, argued that the draft legislation ignores the tremendous economic benefits the project would deliver to New Jersey — 2,200 construction jobs and up to 1,600 permanent jobs by 2020.

The design of the project will increase the green space on LG’s property by more than 50 percent, Taylor said. “The environmentalists should love this project,’’ he insisted.

But they don’t.

“The proposed bill would ensure that the views of this magnificent landmark will inspire the same wonder in our children as it did to the first inhabitants of America,’’ said Michelle Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Not only environmentalists think the project is a bad idea. A letter sent to LG Electronics last week by a coalition of shareholders and investors also urged the company to reconsider its plan.

“While we welcome LG’s expansion of its U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, we strongly advise the company not to proceed with its current plants to build a 143-foot-high building which would spoil these scenic vistas for everyone except LG itself,’’ the letter said, signed by 32 signatories, representing investment funds, firms, and foundations.

“Clearly, it is in LG’s interest to find a responsible solution,’’ the letter added. “What it will do is end this controversy and enhance the company’s standing in this community and beyond by showing that LG has the wisdom to change course in response to mounting public concerns.’’