A rendering of the proposed new look for the "ancient cliffs" of New Jersey's Palisades, overlooking the Hudson River -- "a treasured landmark," according to the authors of the NYT op-ed piece we're about to read
For those who don't recognize the bylined names in the following New York Times
op-ed piece published earlier this week, the biographical note at the end explains helpfully: "The authors are former governors of New Jersey." They are, for the record, two Republicans and two Democrats.
The Cloisters, the medieval annex of NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art, looks out on the Palisades from the Manhattan side of the Hudson.
The Opinion Pages
The Threat to the Palisades
By BRENDAN T. BYRNE, THOMAS H. KEAN, JAMES J. FLORIO and CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN
March 24, 2014
THE Palisades, a treasured American landmark, are under threat. The consumer electronics maker LG Electronics USA is preparing to construct a towering headquarters building along the Hudson River north of the George Washington Bridge, breaking the natural sweep of parkland and scenic vistas.
The project would set an unfortunate precedent for the construction of more high-rises along the ancient cliffs. But despite mounting public concern, this global manufacturer of TVs and appliances has refused to consider alternative designs that would preserve the historic setting.
The cliffs of the Palisades, which rise up from the Hudson as high as 500 feet, were formed 200 million years ago from molten rock fed by volcanic eruptions. More than a century ago, in the face of threats from builders and rock quarries, the states of New Jersey and New York created the Palisades Interstate Park to protect the scenic beauty of these ramparts.
Later, land atop the cliffs, extending 12 miles upriver in New Jersey from the George Washington Bridge, was also protected as parkland, a critical addition because protecting the cliffs alone was not enough. Despite the growth along the Palisades, none of the park's residential, commercial or industrial neighbors has built above the tree line.
As former governors of New Jersey, we fully recognize the importance of economic development. But we also strongly believe that there is a way for LG to have all of its desired office space and new jobs while protecting the Palisades. The company can achieve those goals by choosing a low-rise design for its 27-acre tract and building within a 35-foot height limit respected for decades by all other companies next to the park.
We wrote last June to LG's vice chairman and chief executive officer, Bon-Joon Koo, to propose just such a "win-win" alternative. While we received no response from the company's world headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, the president of LG Electronics USA at the time, Wayne Park, replied that our concern was mistaken, as the building "would barely peak above the tree line." In fact, the 143-foot-tall building, to be built in Englewood Cliffs, which approved this zoning variation for its longtime corporate resident, would rise approximately 80 feet above a thin row of trees and be starkly visible from all directions, including the adjacent Palisades Parkway. Mr. Park also dismissed our low-rise proposal -- even though LG's own architect, Kenneth Drucker, acknowledged at a hearing in Englewood Cliffs that the company had enough space on its site to "take the entire building and put it on its side."
But rather than build horizontally, LG decided to build a tower because "they wanted to take advantage of the beauty of the site, the views of the site," he said.
In other words, LG would take for its own private benefit the Palisades' natural beauty and unspoiled views -- which belong to the public.
We're not alone in calling for LG to choose a low-rise design.
The mayors of six nearby communities recently wrote to top LG executives deploring the planned construction, especially since there is a "simple and obvious solution of dropping the height to the tree line."
The regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Judith A. Enck, has compared LG's plan "to building an office tower on the rim of the Grand Canyon."
And the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan B. Jarvis, recently wrote to the planning board in Englewood Cliffs that LG's plan "threatens the nationally significant, historic scenic integrity of the Palisades in a major way" and would "introduce a massive incompatible feature that will be visible for miles along the river."
With the future of the Palisades -- a pride of New Jersey, an interstate park and a celebrated national landmark -- at stake, we remain hopeful that LG will do the right thing and redesign the building. The solution is clear: Build out rather than up. Generate jobs and economic stimulus while conserving the area's scenic beauty.
The building can be redesigned. The Palisades and the Hudson River cannot.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The authors are former governors of New Jersey.
Awhile back I did a walking tour of the Cloisters with that peerless tour leader Justin Ferate. (See my January 2013 post, "
") The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art located in Fort Tryon Park, the treasured park that sits atop the far-northern-Manhattan bank of the Hudson River. Naturally Justin took pains to make sure we understood the history of both the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park. As this Wikipedia entry
(loads o' links onsite) explains, they were basically both gifts of John D. Rockefeller and John D. Jr.
The 66.5-acre (26.9 ha) Fort Tryon Park was created by the oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller beginning in 1917, when he purchased the Billings Estate and other properties in the Fort Washington area and hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of one of the designers of Central Park, and the Olmsted Brothers firm to create a park, which he then donated to New York City in 1935. As part of the overall project, Rockefeller also bought the extensive medieval art collection of George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor and collector, who had already established a medieval-art museum near his home in Fort Washington, and gave it to the Metropolitan along with a number of pieces from Rockefeller's own collection, including the Unicorn Tapestries. These became the core of the collection now housed at the Cloisters.
The museum and adjacent gardens within Fort Tryon Park, which incorporate 4 acres (1.6 ha), were created through grants and endorwments from Rockefeller, and were built from 1934-39. Rockefeller also bought and donated several hundred acres of the New Jersey Palisades to the State of New Jersey on the other side of the Hudson River to preserve the view for the museum. This land is now part of the Palisades Interstate Park. [Boldface emphasis added.]
The museum was designed by Charles Collens who incorporated parts from five cloistered abbeys of Catalan, Occitan and French origins. Buildings from Sant Miquel de Cuixà, Sant Guilhèm dau Desèrt, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigòrra, and Froville were disassembled stone-by-stone and shipped to New York City, where they were reconstructed and integrated by Collens into a cohesive whole by simplifying and merging the various medieval styles in his new buildings.
As the Wikipedia entry also explains, old John D. also did everything in his power to secure for all time the precious view of those "ancient cliffs" of the Palisades, on the opposite bank of the Hudson. For an amazingly long time the public interest in preserving the skyscape of the Palisades has been understood by the people who matter in the states of both New York and New Jersey.
Until now, that is. (There had to be an "until now," right? Or why would be talking about it?)
As I reported in my January 2013 post, Larry Rockefeller, a great-grandson of John D. and grandson of John D. Jr. who served for 27 years on the Palisades Interstate Park Commissions and is now a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "explained that his grandfather had made clear that the 700 acres he donated atop that 13-mile stretch of the Palisades was meant to be preserved," pointing out that "there were conditions in that gift which made that very clear."
In a letter to the Palisades Interstate Park commissioners John D. Rockefeller Jr. wrote at the time, "My primary purpose in acquiring this property was to preserve the land lying along the top of the Palisades from any use inconsistent with your ownership and protection of the Palisades themselves." As Robin Pogrebin wrote then in the NYT
The lawsuits filed to protect the view include a joint one filed in November by Scenic Hudson, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs. The other suit was filed by two Englewood Cliffs residents.
AND THE CURRENT GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY?
"My grandfather was not alone in appreciating it and acting to preserve it," Mr. Rockefeller said. "There is a public trust that has been there over the decades to keep buildings below the tree line and preserve the unbroken ridgeline and landscape landmark view, which may be one of the most iconic in America."
You may have noticed that the above NYT op-ed piece was authored by those four former
governors of New Jersey, with no reference to any current
governor of the state. That person's absence from the discussion struck me as, well, striking enough that I undertook a quick search for "palisades LG christie." I found things like these:
• "Letter Urges Governor Christie to Stop LG's Tower Plan ..."
• "New York Officials Call on Governor Christie to Stop LG ..."
• "LG supporters looking for Gov. Christie's help in fight over ..."
• "Former N.J. Governors Join Fight To Save Palisades From LG ..."
• "Bergen County executive and Englewood Cliffs mayor ask ..."
Strangely, however, I found no mention of the involvement of the current governor. Hardly definitive, of course, but highly suggestive. It would be unkind to suggest that where there are large chunks of money changing hands, NJ Fats is most likely to be found serving as traffic cop to ensure that enough of that money is finding its way into the pockets of the right friends and cronies. He does, after all, have a storied interest in certain kinds of traffic -- sometimes obstructing, and sometimes facilitating, depending on who's in the path of that traffic.
I know I'm open to the accusation of beating up on NJ Fats. That's OK -- I think I can live with it.
Labels: Chris Christie, New Jersey