Must we choose between strong environmental protections and a robust economy? No — it’s possible to have both. And here’s proof.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Scenic Hudson, the Natural Resources Defense Council and many partners reached an historic agreement with LG Electronics on a new 360,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Englewood Cliffs that will meet the highest standards of sustainability while protecting the iconic vistas of the Palisades cliffs, a National Natural and Historic Landmark, and creating new jobs.
It was a happy ending to what could have been a tragic story for an American treasure, the steep Palisades that rise up dramatically from the Hudson River.
The Palisades cliffs were formed 200 million years ago, were gazed upon by explorer Henry Hudson when he anchored his ship there in 1609, inspired the Hudson River School artistic movement, and are now viewed and visited by millions of people a year.
Several years ago, the South Korean firm LG Electronics conducted a nationwide search for a home for its new American headquarters. After evaluating more than 200 locations, the company chose to purchase land in Englewood Cliffs, its base for two decades.
The original design for the new LG headquarters building made a strong statement. Too strong. The 143-foot building would have dominated the view of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge -a place where building heights had historically been kept low so as not to interrupt the natural panorama.
Opposition erupted on both sides of the Hudson, resulting in a legal appeal of the zoning variance that permitted the higher building.
Luckily, four former New Jersey governors, all with a strong history of protecting the environment, stepped up to the plate.
The former governors — Brendan Byrne, Thomas Kean, James Florio and Christine Todd Whitman — have strong environmental legacies and worked closely with New Jersey Conservation Foundation for many years. In fact, all serve as members of the foundation’s Honorary Board of Trustees.
The four governors sent a letter to the CEO of LG Electronics, asking for a lower-profile building that respected the Palisades’ significance as a natural landmark and historic site. The voices of the governors, when added to the grassroots opposition, made for a powerful groundswell of public opinion.
Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi called upon all parties to come together and resolve the conflict. Discussions began nearly a year ago, with the goal of securing a “win-win” solution. Trust between the parties grew over the months as options were explored.
To LG’s credit, corporate executives listened and understood, demonstrating a genuine appreciation for the Palisades’ significance in the American landscape.
On June 23 LG and its former foes together announced that a newly-designed building would be just under 70 feet, less than half the height allowed by the variance. The low-rise building will hug the contours of the Palisades and will not mar the historic view-shed.
The new corporate campus will allow LG to double its employment to more than 1,000 by 2019, and in the short term create thousands of construction jobs. LG is aiming for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum standards — the highest for energy efficiency — and the design protects surrounding woodlands and wetlands as well.
The four former governors applauded the agreement, saying it “demonstrates that a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with strong environmental protection. With the construction of the new sustainable, low-rise LG headquarters, New Jersey will retain a solid corporate partner along with much needed jobs and tax revenues. And one of America’s most visible natural and historic landmarks will be protected for future generations.”
A sincere thanks to LG for being a conscientious corporate citizen and partner in the protection of the Palisades. The agreement shows that economic development, when done right, can go hand-in-hand with environmental and historic protection.
To find out more about the LG agreement, go to http://njconservation.org/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?prid=132 and http://njconservation.org/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?prid=131
Michele Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (www.njconservation.org).