Stopping development on the Palisades
Stack sponsors bill to protect 200 million-year-old cliffs
by Gennarose Pope
Reporter Staff Writer
Jun 24, 2012 | 4031 views | 3 3 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NO MORE DEVELOPMENT – State Sen. Brian Stack has proposed a bill to stop development on or near the historic Palisades cliffs that run through Hudson and Bergen counties.
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“The Palisades were around long before we were,” Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack said last week about the 200-million-year-old stretch of cliffs that run through Hudson to Bergen counties. “They should not be further destroyed in exchange for commercial development or profit.”

Stack has sponsored the “Save the Hudson River Palisades Act” bill which, if passed, would prohibit any proposed development that would cut into the cliff slope or base. It would also prohibit development within a buffer area to be determined by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection.

Several recent development projects in North Bergen and beyond have aroused opposition from local activists who want to protect the Palisades. However, the projects are sometimes favored by towns that want additional tax dollars from the developments.

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The stone cliffs run 20 miles from Jersey City to Nyack, N.Y. and hit 300 feet in Weehawken.

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“We have seen destruction of this natural resource in North Bergen in two developments, Church Hill Estates and the strip mall, Avak, for a Walgreens and a Bank of America branch bank on River Road,” said Peggy Wong, president of the Coalition to Preserve the Palisades Cliffs, last week. “A third development, Appleview, also is removing [some] of the cliffs on River Road. This bill is too late for these three developments, but it is not too late to save other future developments along the Palisade Cliffs.”

“The effort to preserve the Palisades goes way back to the 1970s, and there is a lot of interest in the development of the area,” Stack explained. “I have always been a supporter of the effort. We simply cannot afford any further deterioration.”

He added that, optimistically, the bill could be up for consideration by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by June 30.

Hills with history

The stone cliffs run 20 miles from Jersey City to Nyack, N.Y. and hit 300 feet in height in Weehawken, increasing to 540 feet at their northernmost point. They are already preserved in Fort Lee as they make up Palisades Interstate Park and are considered a national landmark there.

The cliffs were seen by millions of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island a century ago. The word “palisade” has the word “pale” at its root, which is derived from the Latin word palus (stake).

In a June 18 press release, Stack said, “We will never be able to restore them to their natural state, or to re-establish the stability and security of the cliff slopes.”

According to the proposed bill, area development has caused the need for “the installation of steel nets in some areas…to protect against and prevent rockslides, [and] that further destruction and damage…could endanger the safety of the people and structures in these communities.”

Preservation: current and future

Union City’s Land Development Ordinance already has a built-in protection clause for the section of the Palisades that lies in the city called the Palisades Preservation Overlay District. It controls development within the steep slope areas along the Palisades and is meant to minimize the “adverse impact cause by the development of such areas, including, but not limited to, erosion, siltation, flooding, and surface water runoff.”

Stack’s bill is essentially a more specific and further-reaching version of the city’s ordinance, and goes so far as to stipulate so-called “buffer areas” that extend no more than 50 or less than 25 feet at the cliff slope edge, and no more than 100 or less than 50 feet at the cliff base.

The only exception to these preservation restrictions is for “linear development,” defined by the bill as community infrastructure needs such as is absolutely required for local living utilities like water pipelines, electrical, telephone, and other transmission lines. It excludes “residential, commercial, office, [and] industrial development.”

Wong believes the bill is a good start, but that it needs further clarification where Palisades Interstate Park Commision's role in enforcing the bill and the concept of “linear development” are concerned.

“The most glaring exception to this bill is when the cliffs are destroyed in a development that is designated as a ‘redevelopment’ where all existing state and local zoning codes and building codes are subservient to the decisions and purposes of the redevelopment,” she said. “ Those decisions are made by the town commissioners and mayor normally as members of a specially created "Redevelopment Agency". This bill does not cover designated redevelopment projects.”

She hopes these concerns can be resolved with Senator Stack and his staff.

What’s in store for those who oppose

The bill would allow the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to enforce severe penalties for those who attempt to further compromise the cliffs. Any violation would be treated as a fourth degree crime. Those in violation would face up to 18 months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, in addition to a civil penalty between $500 and $1,000 for each offense. The perpetrator may also risk having his or her professional license suspended or even revoked in the state.

Gennarose Pope may be reached at gpope@hudsonreporter.com

Comments
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rosepuerto
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June 24, 2012
The destruction of our cliffs has proceeded at an alarmingly quick pace. I fully support our local community leaders that are standing up against brazen development allowed by some local politicians seeking an easy solution for a quick buck. The "tax ratables" argument is complex and not the simple solution is appears - yet they would erroneously have us believe that it's beneficial for our towns to build on every inch possible because it will generate more money. It is inconceivable to me that our elected officials have not been able to figure out how to capitalize on the natural resources in our area (other than to destroy them and erect more buildings). They might consider beautifying the cliffs allowing the trees and wildlife to flourish, build more parks along the waterfront with running, hiking and biking trails (not towers of buildings that block everyone's view); support small businesses that add variety (quaint shops and restaurants) along the base of River Road and the streets behind that run parallel and not build more of the same (three drugstores within a one mile stretch is a bit much, no?); support our existing local business owners by creating an environment that would entice New Yorkers, for example, to visit our towns by ferry for recreation and shopping. It is right for us to stand up against the further destruction of the cliffs and the waterfront, not only because once it's gone it's gone for good; but also because it's fiscally responsible for our local communities! Let's take this all the way - address "redevelopment" as well so that NO ONE has the power to destroy the cliffs.
DancingRudy
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June 24, 2012
Failing to cover redevelopment pretty much makes this legislation meaningless. It just transfers the power to destroy the cliffs from the zoning board to the mayor and town council.

If Senator Stack really wants to save those Cliff's he'll cover redevelopment as well. The question is - does he just want to stick a finger in Sacco's eye while actually accomplishing next to nothing or does he want to save the Cliffs?

Right now I'm betting on the former. I hope he proves me wrong.
65Rosesauthor
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June 24, 2012
What Mayor Sacco and developers like Appleview are doing to our environment and our quality of life is criminal. The apathy and ignorance of constituents in the area is almost as bad. THIS BILL MUST PASS! However, the fines need to be a lot steeper. All Appleview has to to is fold $10,000 into their budget. That's peanuts to them. The whole thing make me sick.