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Appeals Court Tosses Zoning Variance In N.J.

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - A New Jersey trial court improperly upheld a zoning variance for a corporate office building allowing it to rise more than four times as high as the zoning limit, New Jersey's appeals court ruled.

LG Electronics USA proposed creating the 143-foot-high, eight-story office building in 2011, on property the electronics company owned in Englewood Cliffs. The building is intended to serve as LG Electronic's North American headquarters.

But its construction would have "dramatically affected" the views along the historic Palisades Cliffs, a protected stretch of land overlooking Manhattan, the New Jersey Appellate Division held Oct. 21.

During planning of the building, LG Electronics sought a variance from the local zoning board, and received in 2012, after agreeing to lower one of its planned garages by roughly ten feet. A zoning law forbade structures higher than 35 feet so as to not mare the landscape.

The New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs and several local environmental groups sued to block the project. In response, LG Electronics argued that the office building was "consistent with the surrounding neighborhood," and the zoning board claimed landscaping and "increased greenery" would make the office building's height less noticeable.

A Bergen County judge upheld the zoning approval, and the plaintiffs appealed. LG Electronics has since come to an agreement with some environmental groups to limit the height of the planned building to 69 feet, still well over the 35-foot limit.

The Appellate Division took to task both the zoning board and Bergen County Superior Court in failing to address "the historic and scenic importance" of the Palisades Cliffs location when approving the planned corporate campus.

"[The 35-foot limit] is designed to preserve views of the skyline and trees, avoid the appearance of overcrowding that could result from tall buildings, and maintain the existing character of the Palisades Cliffs," the appeals court wrote in the decision. "Such a large-scale deviation will undoubtedly have a visual effect on the area."

A number of environmental groups, who had fought against the variance, heralded the decision. "We believe that this tower was the wrong tower, in the wrong place, at the wrong height," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club in a statement. "We are glad the court agreed."

LG Electronics must now seek another height variance for its planned office building. The company has stated it is still finalizing designs for the corporate campus.

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