The Bill to Save the Palisades
On June 5 , the NJ Senate Committee on Energy and Environment voted to send bill 2025 to save the Palisades to the full Senate. It was a long hearing with many more in favor of the bill than opposed. But it was quite a different scene than the first Englewood Cliffs Planning Board hearing that sparked this one. The bipartisan bill introduced is to preserve the historic 35 ft height ordinance on the Palisades 2,000 ft back from the cliff face and to make it retroactive to any building that does not have its foundation in yet.
What a Difference Venue Makes
There were no police dogs, the trade union men wore suits, and spoke more respectfully. They could not sit across two seats like they had done in Englewood Cliffs to fill up the room and keep others out, because the historic wooden chairs had arms.
The security at the Senate annex building was polite and a breath of fresh air compared to the intimidating sight that met residents and environmentalists in Englewood Cliffs. The parking situation was much better as well. No restricting ADA parking to keep elderly citizens away. The environmentalists arrived by train.
The only ones who still retained their arrogance were the folks representing LG Electronics, the consumer products company determined to photobomb all tourist pictures of the Palisades vista from here on out just like they do in any TV images or tourist pics in Times Square.
A Fair Hearing
The hearing was conducted fairly with those opposed and for alternately speaking. Representatives for the residents suing LG were actually allowed to speak, unlike in Englewood Cliffs. Then it got to the point where there were no more opposed and citizen after citizen, group after group, including Englewood Cliffs resident Carin Geiger who is involved with a group called Concerned Residents of Englewood Cliffs, and even the Regional Planning Association, made their case as to why the State should act to prevent buildings higher than 35 ft on top of the Palisades. The RPA rep explained that the preservation of the Palisades has always been a regional goal from an economic perspective. Eileen Swan made the case for the members of Protect the Palisades Coalition and delivered their rebuttal to LG’s attorney and spokesman.
Another aspect of this bill would prevent any building which did not get its foundation in by May 1 of this year from exceeding 35 ft. This bill would effectively invalidate the variance for the 143 ft building that was wrongfully granted to LG by the Borough of Englewood Cliffs.
Highlights & Low Points
One highlight of the testimony was a Representative from the US Green Building Council who created the LEED standard for green buildings, explaining that LG’s claim that LG “needed” to make their building tall to make it green was “ludicrous“. Another important discussion was Chairman of the Senate Committee asking the attorney for LG about the building height laws in South Korea, that protect important national Landmarks there and if the LG building would be allowed to be built in LG’s home nation. One absurd moment was courtesy of a pro-LG union member. The variance that brought this whole thing about was the town allowing a 143 ft building for one company in a 35 ft zone, in effect illegally spot zoning in favor of LG, and here was this trades rep with a straight face trying to say that keeping the traditional 35 ft height ordinance for everyone, a law that stood for decades, was spot zoning because it was unfairly targeting LG by asking them to comply with the same law everyone else honors.
The Revolving Door
What was interesting to the Englewood Cliffs residents in Trenton was that the Attorney representing LG Electronics, Nick Sekas had been the Englewood Cliffs Zoning Board attorney and had declined to be reappointed to the Englewood Cliffs Zoning Board before LG was granted the variance. He later was hired as LG’s attorney. This revolving door was reminiscent of the former Borough Planner Joe Burgis who had been hired by LG Electronics to get the variance for their HQ before working for the Borough, and the conflicts involving Mayor Parisi, who sells insurance for LIG – LG’s sister company run by the same family that owns LG. The Mayor, who uses his business email address for Otterstedt.com (in bold on the Borough website), instead of an official government email address, also sits on the Board of ConnectOne Bank whose headquarters is in the zone the Mayor wishes to allow hi-rises in. He is the very same Mayor who has outstanding state ethics complaints against him for participating in council school budget discussions while providing both the insurance and the bank for the Englewood Cliffs schools. That Mayor.
Creative Geography Lesson
LG Attorney Sekas began his testimony with the bold-faced lie that the proposed LG building was not on the Palisades. LG spokesman John Taylor had the audacity to memorialize the lie in his written remarks. It is a lie because the entire town of Englewood Cliffs is on the Palisades. That is not my opinion. It is a geological fact literally written in stone. The testimony went downhill from there for LG as Sekas defensively tried to explain why LG was not willing to provide a site plan of the LG building or allow the Senate to question the LG architect or engineer. He and LG Spokesman John Taylor even had to explain that to get the photo of the Palisades they say was from the Cloisters, they had to use a balloon (A balloon. Really?) Everyone in the room familiar with the Palisades knows all you have to do is drive there or any point on the NY side, look west, and snap a photo like I have shown above. My photos were taken either by me at Wave Hill with a Motorolla HD or by my husband with an I Phone 4 from just under the GW Bridge on the NY side looking Northwest. The manipulation of the photos in the presentation by LG’s PR team was rightfully questioned. LG did not present a credible defense. Although Senator Greenstein voted no while stating that the process granting LG the variance was flawed, and mentioning jobs as if the previous hours of testimony proving that a short building uses as much labor as a tall one did not take place, the Committee still released the bill.
The NJ State Legislature Saved the Palisades Before
It is obvious to everyone, except perhaps Mayor Parisi, Mr. Sekas, and former Englewood Cliffs Planner Mr. Burgis that municipal governments in NJ are hopelessly ethically compromised and too susceptible to construction money and corruption. It is for that reason that the NJ legislature acted in 1900 during the Gilded Age, to save the Palisades the first time. It is because of that the NJ Legislature must act to save the Palisades now.
The First Gilded Age
When the NJ legislature saved the Palisades the first time, we did not know the value of wetlands, we did not understand pollution, the PCBs and the chemical revolution had yet to happen three decades later. The Parkway had not been thought up yet – as nearly everyone was still driving horse drawn carriages. They had yet to realize that the Palisades were 200 million years old. Older than the Grand Canyon. Let me repeat. The Palisades are millions of years older than the Grand Canyon. But the state legislators knew that the Palisades were beautiful. The Palisades witnessed Henry Hudson meeting the Lenape. It was from the Palisades where Thomas Paine witnessed the moment we almost lost the American Revolution when George Washington wept. The Palisades also witnessed the first steamships sail up the Hudson a hundred years before.
Beauty Won the Day
Our state Legislators in 1900, before women had the right to vote, before the Lenape were even considered citizens, before the Titanic sank, before we had even discovered the first vitamin, or penicillin, or experienced World War. When unions were still focused on protecting workers, not politicians. Before there was a National Park Service. Before all of that, right in the middle of the Gilded Age, when money was being made hand over fist by the “Robber Barons”, we, and even some of them, knew that here was something precious and worth saving. In fact it was J.P. Morgan himself that supplied the donation to close the largest quarry. It was John D. Rockefeller who donated parkland to the public on both sides of the Hudson. The argument to destroy the Palisades views then was the same false one as it is now. MONEY. The quarrymen were making lots of it. But to appreciate the Palisades then as now, you can be a billionaire or a pauper. The Palisades appeal to the humanity in us that recognizes beauty. That is why the nation rallied round a beautiful monument to our world’s history and saved the Palisades. Teddy Roosevelt said at the time “The Palisades should be preserved. They form one of the most striking and beautiful features of nature in the entire country, and their marring and ruin should be a source not merely of regret, but of shame to our people.”
Why This NJ Legislature Must Act
We need those same State Senators and Assembly members again to do the right thing and pass this bill. Last time the bullies were the quarrymen, this time it is LG, using the trade unions like the men in “On the Waterfront” (filmed along the foot of the Palisades at their southern end) who are beholden to their “bosses” who tell them when to show up and who to intimidate or they don’t eat. We need a Marlon Brando to tell those trade union members straight up that they are being used by politicians and if LG had designed a low-rise building, they wouldn’t have to dress up in suits in Trenton to make their case, the building would already be built by now, and the Palisades would still be saved. But right now, I don’t see Marlon Brando, I just see the NJ State Legislature, who used the same precedent before and saved the Pinelands, the Highlands, and the Meadowlands. They have done it before, telling individual municipalities to work together for the common good. They can do it again.
Update: Mayor Parisi had a press conference
damage control session at the LG site on June 17 talking about a “compromise” but basically asking everyone to stop picking on LG. Afterward, an NJTV reporter asked LG spokesman Taylor if a compromise would mean they would lower the building below the tree height. The LG spokesman said a building below the tree height was a “non-starter”. Therefore LG has every intention of building Sauron’s tower – visible from everywhere, which is completely unacceptable to the objectors to the LG building. Eileen Swan released a response from the Protect the Palisades Coalition calling for a win-win solution – a low rise building that does not ruin the view.
The press conference appeared to be a weak attempt to get the bad PR pressure off LG and Mayor Parisi. Mayor Parisi admitted in the press conference that he had been in discussions with LG before there even was a project, sealing his role as the guy who actually helped start the mess. He appeared to be shaking badly in what seemed to be a hostage video scripted by LG. The press conference was clearly aimed at derailing the Senate Bill and preventing the public from focusing on Mayor Parisi’s plans to allow hi-rises north of the George Washington Bridge. The residents there asked why the Planning Board meeting for that night was so abruptly cancelled and the Mayor said it was because there was a graduation that night. However in a follow-up, the resident explained that the graduation was a different night. Mayor Parisi, caught in a lie, said that they had to “set up” for it. Unaware it had been cancelled, residents from within 200 feet of the LG site showed up at the school to attend the hearing and to protest the rezoning for hi-rises. Even the ambulance squad showed up because they were not informed of the cancellation. Other than the residents, many of whom had been kept out of the first Planning Board meeting and the ambulance squad, it was deserted except for the custodian. At the Mayor and Council meeting the next day, Carin Geiger of Concerned Residents of Englewood Cliffs called the Mayor to task for cancelling the Planning Board hearing under false pretenses and demanded he keep his campaign promises to the residents about preserving the residential nature of the Borough by rescinding the hi-rise rezoning.
This can’t be left up to a corporation whose spokesman can’t even admit that Englewood Cliffs is even ON the Palisades, or a Mayor who is clearly carrying water for said corporation and who appears terrified of facing his own constituents at a public meeting because they are now informed. If the previous hearings granting the variance were advertised as badly as the current ones and are cancelled as soon as the residents find out about them, how can anyone say the process in Englewood Cliffs has been transparent? What is going on there is not democracy.
The process in Englewood Cliffs is clearly tainted and anything over the tree height will be visible and will destroy the view that millions cherish every single day from the largest city in the United States. The 143 ft variance LG received was still over four times the traditional 35 feet. That is why the NJ State Legislature must act.
The issue will be discussed on Brian Lehrer’s show Monday, June 23, between 10:20 and 10:30.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.