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Uptown Stargazers Worry Proposed New Jersey LG Office Will Block Stars

By Nigel Chiwaya | April 3, 2013 10:05am

INWOOD — In the city that never sleeps, Inwood Hill Park's Bear Rock Mountain is one of few places where you can still see a sky full of stars.

But the vista from Bear Rock Mountain — a hilltop 300 yards into the Inwood park — may become less of a draw if an electronics giant is allowed to go ahead with its plans across the Hudson River in New Jersey, as first reported by the New York Times.

LG Electronics is looking to build an eight-story office building as part of its new corporate headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., drawing the ire of several community groups in Upper Manhattan that are concerned about the effect the building will have on the landscape.

"This is one of the great spots that we have for stargazing in New York," said Inwood resident Jason Kendall, a professor at William Paterson University and the head of the Inwood Astronomy Project, which hosts monthly stargazing sessions at Bear Rock Mountain. "It's one of the few places where you can get away from all of the lights."

Kendall, who has been stargazing at Bear Rock Mountain since 2008, fears that the tower will pollute the night sky with light and eliminate a favorite spot of uptown astronomers.

"I worry that the only place in the whole city where there's any kind of dark is going to be gone," Kendall said.

Officials from the Cloisters, the New York Restoration Project, Community Board 12, and Fort Tryon Park Trust, have all come out expressing reservations for the proposed office site, which is located just behind the Palisades, a tree-lined series of cliffs along the Hudson River that has been a national landmark since 1983.

LG's proposed complex would stand 143-feet tall, which would put it over the tops of the Palisades tree line and, critics say, disrupt the majesty of the area.

"[The building] would denigrate the view shed from the scenic landmark park across the Hudson River in New York City, Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters Museum," wrote Jeff Baumi and Jennifer Hoppa, the chairman and executive director, respectively, of the Fort Tryon Park Trust. "The LG Electronics building as currently proposed would therefore compromise two landmarks and national significance."

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat has also railed against the development. In a letter to the presidents of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Empire State Development Corporation, Espaillat accused LG of pursuing plans that would "damage a key New York landmark, and negatively impact our economy."

"I ask that you exercise authority of your respective agencies to bar [LG] from any future economic development subsidies should this building go forward," Espaillat wrote.

LG spokesman John Taylor said the company, which has based its U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs for 25 years, altered the designs for the office after holding multiple community forums in New Jersey in 2010 and 2011, and that the plans have been approved by the governments of Englewood Cliffs and Bergen County.

Despite the approval, LG is embroiled in a lawsuit with New Jersey groups over the project, NJ.com reported.

The uptown groups have little if any power to block the development. Still, that hasn't stopped them from writing letters to Wayne Park, LG's North American chief executive officer, asking the company to redesign the office building.

Taylor said LG is sensitive to the concerns of Manhattanites. For astronomers, Taylor said the building was designed with lights that turn off when a room is empty and shades that automatically draw shut at night.

Kenneth Drucker, the building's chief architect, added that the project was designed to be rated platinum — the highest mark — on the LEED green-building rating scale.

"All site lighting will be at code minimum levels to illuminate footpaths and small areas of surface parking. All exterior lighting will also be facing downward and all light fixtures will be well below the height of the tree canopies," Drucker said via email.

When asked if LG could alter the plan and lower the height of the tower, Taylor said that doing so would increase the cost of the project by $10 million and delay the company's 2016 move-in date.

Still, Taylor said the company, was open to dialogue with the New York groups.

"We have to weigh business concerns with the concerns of community," Taylor said. "We hope that we'll be able to find a middle ground."