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Big city, dark skies

Big city, dark skies

Story and photos by Sherry Mazzocchi

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Astronomer Jason Kendall with his wife Donna Kendall Stearns star-gazes often in Inwood Hill Park.

Amateur astronomer Jason Kendall says Inwood Hill Park is one of the darkest and best places to see stars in all of New York City.

But he believes that velvety darkness could soon be spoiled by light pollution. LG Electronics is poised to build a 143-foot-tall glass office park in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, located in pristine Palisades, directly across the Hudson River from Inwood Hill Park.

According to environmentalists, the building will rise well above the 35-foot limit of the tree line—a height that other area companies have respected for decades.

Kendall is worried that the lights of the office complex will be visible from across the river in the park.

“That means the last star-gazing location in Manhattan will be knocked out,” he said.

He thinks having access to a dark sky filled with stars is something akin to a human right. For millennia, people have looked to the sky for the answers to some of the most pressing questions of human existence: where did we come from and where are we going?

Kendall regularly sets up his 15-inch Obsession telescope in a remote spot in Inwood Hill Park overlooking the Hudson River.

His star parties attract people of all ages.

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The site of the proposed LG Electronics building from across the Hudson River.

Other astronomers often attend, and bring their own scopes for public viewing. During the course one recent evening, about 30 people got a closer look at astral phenomenon such as Jupiter’s red spot, star clusters and Orion’s Belt.

In Times Square, New Yorkers can see about three stars. Kendall says on a cloudless night in Inwood Hill Park, viewers can see about 300.

But in remote parts of the world, far away from city lights, nearly six thousand stars along Milky Way are visible.

Astronomers aren’t the only ones concerned about the proposed building.

New Jersey environmental groups filed lawsuits against LG Electronics.

The South Korean-based company makes digital display equipment, mobile phones, TVs televisions and home appliances. LG also recently announced a 100-inch diagonal HD smart laser TV for sale in the U.S. at a price of $8,999.

The proposed building is also on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s radar.

IBack in the 1930’s, John D. Rockefeller donated land for the Cloisters Museum (now a part of the Met) and bought the Palisades Cliffs to preserve the view for its visitors.

According to The New York Times, members of the Rockefeller family have asked LG Electronics to redesign their building so it lies below the tree line, rendering it invisible from Manhattan.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also spoke to LG about a redesign. Mark Izeman, director of NRDC’s New York Regional Programs, said that everyone wants LG to stay in Englewood Cliffs.

“But there is no reason to spoil 100 years of conservation when the same goals can be accomplished with a modest change in the building.”

He noted that a large portion of the 27-acre site has an above-ground parking garage, which could be moved underground, allowing the site to grow out, instead of up.

John Taylor, spokesperson for LG Electronics, said that from the viewpoint of the river, the building would not be visible above the tree line.

However, Inwood Hill Park sits along some of the highest parts of Manhattan. and Ffrom that vantage point, the building would be visible.

The building is still in design, according to Kenneth Drucker, the Ddirector of Ddesign at HOK, the building’s architect. “We are aspiring for a LEED Platinum building which requires the design team to control all potential light pollution,” he said in an email to The Manhattan Times.

All of the building’s lighting will be below the tree canopies, he said, and there will be no lighting to illuminate the building’s exterior. Interior lighting will be controlled by sensors and automatically turned off when spaces are unoccupied and lowered at night.

Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified buildings are designed with sustainable features that include water efficiency, energy conservation and compliance with environmental laws and regulations.

Izeman, however, noted that LEED certification does not take location into account. “You could put a building in the bottom of the Grand Canyon and it could still be LEED-certified,” he said.

Kendall hopes LG Electronics will also take the lead in creating a Dark Sky- compliant building.

The International Dark-Sky Association maintains that outdoor lighting can be more energy efficient and non-polluting by using fixtures that focus light downward instead of scattering it towards the heavens.

Drucker said that was their goal.

“I do not believe the project will impact stargazing in anyway,” he wrote.

“That would be a win-win-win situation,” Kendall said.

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