Englewood Cliffs proposes cap on high-rises

Record (Hackensack, NJ), 2014-07-11


July 11 -- ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS -- Controversial zoning changes that allow for corporate high-rise development in the borough would be repealed under a new ordinance introduced Wednesday – a move that was simultaneously praised as a victory for the people of Englewood Cliffs and derided as a political stunt.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said resident Carin Geiger , who has pushed for the zoning changes to be rescinded and for the borough to return to its original 35-foot building height limit. "It's what I believe the community wants."

The ordinance will be reviewed by the Planning Board , which will then make a recommendation to the Borough Council , Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr . said. A public hearing on the ordinance has been set for July 22 .

The Borough Council also voted 5-1 to place a question on the November ballot concerning building height in the borough. Councilwoman Gloria Oh voted no.

The wording of the ballot measure – which was the source of much debate Wednesday -- has yet to be determined, according to Borough Attorney E. Carter Corriston . The council is expected to vote on the wording at the July 22 meeting.

Building height has been a controversial subject in Englewood Cliffs , where LG Electronics USA plans to construct a 143-foot office building as part of its new North American headquarters. Critics complain that the building would be the first to rise above the Palisades tree line north of Fort Lee .

The zoning board granted LG several variances in 2012 for the project, including an exemption to the town's 35-foot building height limit. Then after two residents sued, the Borough Council changed the zoning on the largely corporate stretch of Sylvan Avenue -- where LG's campus is located -- to allow for buildings of up to 90 feet on lots between 5 and 25 acres, and up to 150 feet on parcels 25 acres or larger. LG's campus is 27 acres.

In response to subsequent litigation that claimed the rezoning was inconsistent with the borough's master plan, the Planning Board is now considering a master plan amendment that would support the zoning changes. The ordinance introduced Wednesday would not affect LG's building plans.

However, it would address another concern opponents have expressed: that the increased building height limits will lead to rampant high-rise development along the Palisades, which are considered a national natural landmark.

Eileen Swan of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation , which has helped lead the fight against the zoning changes, called the ordinance a "stunning reversal" for the borough.

"Clearly, the people of Englewood Cliffs have been heard," she said.

But the Republican candidates in this November's council election, Mario Kranjac and Kinga Zamecki , criticized the ordinance, which was proposed by their Democratic opponent, Edward Aversa .

Aversa's ordinance, Kranjac said, is "nothing more than a political stunt designed to take away the power of local residents to vote on this important issue in November."

The Republicans have instead pushed for a November ballot measure asking voters their opinion of the zoning changes. Councilman Ramon Ferro asked the council to vote on such a question Wednesday. He later said he wanted the question to ask if commercial building should be limited to 35 feet in height, which was proposed Wednesday by resident Martin Geiger , who submitted to the council his own draft ballot question.

Aversa's ordinance – if adopted – would return the height limit for all of Englewood Cliffs to 35 feet.

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