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LG clashes with environmentalists over New Jersey headquarters

By Elizabeth Dilts

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, New Jersey (Reuters) - Across the Hudson River from New York City and atop the steep cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades, LG Electronics Inc has drawn the ire of environmentalists, and a Rockefeller, over its new North America headquarters.

LG says the 143-foot-tall (43-meter) headquarters will meet the highest standards in sustainable architecture. Critics argue that the company is spoiling natural views and are begging LG for a shorter building.

"LG would essentially ruin an American landmark," said Larry Rockefeller, whose grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Jr., donated land for the Palisades Interstate National Park on the condition that structures visible from across the river were removed.

The Palisades are a series of forested cliffs stretching 13 miles north of the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side of the Hudson that were designated a national landmark in 1965.

Local governments have long required construction near the Palisades to be shorter than 35 feet to be hidden by the trees. But in 2011, the town of Englewood Cliffs granted LG a permit to build 143 feet high for its headquarters, where the company plans to add 700 new jobs and build a science exhibition space for children.

Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi said the town changed its height rules for any property of more than 25 acres because LG's building design relies on tall, narrow construction in order to maximize energy efficiency.

Rockefeller and a coalition of New York and New Jersey groups are suing to halt construction. In August, a New Jersey Supreme Court judge ruled LG could continue work on the building. The group filed an appeal, which is pending.

John Taylor, vice president for public affairs at LG Electronics U.S.A., said the time for debate is past.

The company went through "open approvals process" in 2011, which included six public hearings for citizens to voice opinions. In all six hearings, only two people spoke in opposition, Taylor and Parisi said.

"If you look at (the building) from the river, you won't see anything," Taylor said. "If you're at a higher level, you will see this building ... but it will be the most beautiful building above the tree line."

It will also be the tallest.

HUDSON VIEWS

Ed Goodell, executive director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, which maintains the Palisades Interstate Park trails, said LG fails to see why the Palisades are special.

"This is what the Hudson River looked like 400 years ago when Henry Hudson sailed down it. It's such a rare piece of property in this the most developed part of the nation," Goodell said at a protest outside LG's headquarters last week.

A handful of tall structures stand on the Palisades, including a turn-of-the-century mansion that houses a St. Peter's University campus and a radio antenna built before 1940.

However, most of the forested cliffs appear undeveloped.

Taylor said LG, which has operated for 25 years up the road in Englewood Cliffs, appreciates the Palisades and will restore six wetlands on its new property and plant 700 trees. But redesigning the building's height at this late stage would cost millions of dollars and delay the project two years, he said.

James Abruzzo, co-director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at New Jersey's Rutgers University, said LG has taken enough steps to qualify as a moral corporation.

"The things they've done show they recognize they have responsibility to the greater good," Abruzzo said, adding that he also treasures the uninterrupted tree line. "I'm glad the protesters are protesting, but on a moral ground, I guess this is a tie."

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Grebler)

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