A Win for All Atop the Palisades

As Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt played a major role in protecting the Palisades, the 20-mile escarpment that rises from the Hudson River's western shoreline and serves as a majestic gateway to New York City. T.R. once said, "It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage that we move on to better things."

These qualities were among the ingredients displayed on both sides of an epic dispute that was resolved by a recent, win-win settlement between the conservation community and LG Electronics regarding the company's proposal to build its North American corporate headquarters atop the Palisades in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The settlement ended three years of litigation brought by Scenic Hudson and its conservation partners aimed at protecting vistas of this National Natural Landmark that got its name from 16th-century explorers.

Scenic Hudson was the leading plaintiff-intervenor in a lawsuit challenging changes to local zoning rules that permitted corporate high rises along the ridgetop, and we collaborated with the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs, the Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference in negotiations with LG resulting in this historic settlement. Laurance Rockefeller, whose family donated the land that became the basis for Palisades Interstate Park, also was a leading participant in the campaign and discussions that resolved the dispute.

Under the settlement, LG will dramatically reduce the height of its headquarters. As originally designed, the building would have stood 143 feet tall -- nearly 70 feet above the treeline -- making it the first building to mar panoramic vistas of the Palisades between the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges. Under the settlement, the buildings will be limited to a maximum height of 69 feet, roughly the height of the trees atop the cliffs, minimizing their impact on the Palisades viewshed. LG also will implement landscape, lighting and other design features to further reduce visual impacts.

So who benefits from the agreement?

First of all, everyone who enjoys magnificent views of the Palisades -- including the millions of people each year who recreate on the Hudson River, travel on Amtrak or Metro-North's Hudson Line, cross the George Washington Bridge, and visit important parks and historic sites such as Wave Hill and the Cloisters in New York City. Every time I take the train to and from Manhattan, I can't help but look up from my work to admire the Palisades' grandeur -- and I know I'm not alone in having this experience.

Second, the people of Englewood Cliffs and surrounding communities. Many of the most ardent supporters of a resolution to this conflict were New Jersey and Englewood Cliffs residents who cherish and take pride in the natural treasures within their bounds. In addition, construction of LG's headquarters will contribute to the local tax rolls and provide jobs. According to the company, the new headquarters will provide space for LG to accommodate a planned doubling of its workforce -- to 1,000 employees -- by 2019 and result in thousands of construction jobs. Further, unspoiled Palisades vistas support the tourism economy and increase property values in cities and towns on both sides of the river.

Finally, LG, will have an architecturally distinctive headquarters and has earned much good will by demonstrating its commitment to working with the community to meet environmental goals.

In addition to the gritty determination displayed by both the conservation community and LG in coming to this resolution, I want to commend Scenic Hudson's four partner organizations and Larry Rockefeller for their creative and collaborative spirit throughout the campaign and negotiations. The philanthropic community -- including individuals and foundations representing the Rockefeller, Harriman and Perkins families responsible for initially saving the Palisades eight decades ago -- generously supported our efforts.

Along with the five groups that signed the settlement, some 30 other environmental, cultural and civic groups joined with us in the Protect the Palisades coalition, providing critical support and advocacy. So did four former governors of New Jersey; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; former U.S. ambassadors to South Korea; dozens of officials at the federal, state and local levels in both New Jersey and New York; as well as thousands of citizens. I personally want to thank our outside attorney, Lou D'Arminio; former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Brad Campbell; architect Brian Shea and Matthew Allen of Saratoga Associates. All offered expertise essential to our successful outcome. Susan Babcock, an expert in green portfolio management, brought the investment community into the dialogue. And many members of the media were helpful.

While this is a great victory -- perhaps the most important environmental settlement in the Hudson Valley over the last decade -- it doesn't mean our work is finished. Moving forward, we must remain vigilant and united in pressing for measures that will ensure permanent protection of the entire Palisades ridgeline.