The preservation of a natural vista in New Jersey in the face of an intruding development is moving from a local to national concern. The Palisades, that stretch of cliffs and streets viewable from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters branch of medieval art, have been protected for decades from any construction over 35 feet in order to maintain the uninterrupted tree line. Now LG Electronics is moving forward with a $300 million, 143-foot headquarters that would stretch several stories above the treetops.
The development has been under criticism since the zoning for LG Electronics was approved in February of 2012 by the Englewood Cliffs Zoning Board of Adjustments. Since then there’s been opposition from the Met, the National Park Service, area politicians, local coalitions like Protect the Palisades, and Larry Rockefeller. Rockefeller’s grandfather John D. Rockefeller donated not just the 60-plus acre Cloisters and surrounding Fort Tryon Park but also the around 700 acres that stretch across the shore on the other side of the Hudson. And since that 1930s donation, nothing has spoiled his vision, until this project from the Korean electronics giant.
While a New Jersey Superior Court Judge upheld the 2012 variance for the development last August, there’s now another lawsuit challenging the variance, which last week was joined by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with the National Resources Defense Council and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. As the New York Times reported, Kennedy declared in an interview: “This is like if somebody tried to build a high-rise next to Yellowstone. […] It’s a national issue.”
This might be a sign that a broader spotlight is turning on what, at first glance, seems like a local preservation issue. The Palisades were included on the 2014 Watch List of the World Monuments Fund as one of their at-risk international cultural sites. On the other hand, some might argue it’s a lot of energy directed towards protecting what’s basically just a pretty view. If you just look south from the Cloisters toward the Washington Bridge the urban skyline reveals itself. Yet this contrast only affirms that the Palisades are worth preserving, especially when a slightly shorter design could both keep jobs in the area and keep the vista unbroken. If the building gets constructed with the current plans, the LG headquarters will no doubt have a gorgeous gaze up on the cliffs looking to Manhattan, but one of the rare places were nature is continuous would be lost.
At the time of the August ruling in LG’s favor, company spokesman John Taylor told CBS New York: “The company will not be deterred by the self-interested efforts of the special interest groups. […] It’s a vocal minority of New Yorkers primarily, who have no interest in the economic well-being of New Jersey.” However, maybe this is just because not enough people know about it, or its implications. If the LG headquarters is constructed, it’s unlikely to be the only new development to spear through the trees. The New York City and New Jersey shorelines are already clustered with towering developments, and places like the Cloisters where you get an urban respite in nature are too valuable to let go so easily. While there will always be more development, there could never be another Palisades.