More on the Valley Forge – American Revolution Center story

At the risk of disrupting the great discussion going on at my original post, I wanted to point out a couple of things that have been brought up by our commenters.

First, WHYY’s Alex Schmidt, the reporter who produced the original piece offered some great additional material that she didn’t have time to include in the original piece.  Folks that she talked to for the story made some additional points:

for example, the ARC originally wanted to build at the location of the current visitor’s center, and the park service led them to the location that they’re building at now instead.

secondly, the lines of public parks are often drawn completely arbitrarily, and one could certainly argue that at Valley Forge, this is the case. many of the local residents who oppose the new development may themselves live on land where continental soldiers once marched.

thirdly, the land on which the ARC is building was zoned for residential development. at the time that they purchased it, Toll Brothers was showing significant interest time as well.

now, because the ARC owns it, 75% of the land will be preserved as open space, forever. the ordinance passed by lower providence is the most restrictive land use ordinance ever passed in the township, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the ARC’s project.

In addition to that, commenter Steve Palmer gave his perspective on the credibility of a group that has formed to oppose the ARC project and he pointed out the website for that group, which, curiously, didn’t turn up in my quick Google searches.  Steve’s main point:

So first impression – savevalleyforgepark.org credibility == 0. They’ve got a “not in my back yard” issue and they’re trying to frame it as patriotism and manipulate the community into standing behind them. If they really believed their claim about “hallowed ground”, they’d be asking the government to buy their own property and give it to the park too. I don’t like being lied to, so I decided to dig further.

Apparently, Save Valley Forge Park hasn’t embraced web 2.0 yet, since there doesn’t appear to be a blog component to the site.  How hard is it to start a wordpress blog?  I’ve done it 3 times now!

So the discussion continues.  Though I’m not promising anything, this may be a story that is worth a little more digging.  If you have more tips or information, in addition to contributing to the comments, you can email Alex directly at aschmidt (at) whyy.org (written like to that to try and fool spam bots).

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5 Comments on “More on the Valley Forge – American Revolution Center story”

  1. Rick Brown, Lower Providence Township Supervisor Says:

    To Alex Schmidt and whoever else thinks “because the ARC owns it, 75% of the land will be preserved as open space, forever. The ordinance passed by Lower Providence is the most restrictive land use ordinance ever passed in the township, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the ARC’s project.” Alex, this is just not true, please give me a call.

    I will try and keep this simple for everyone, Mr. Lenfest and Mr. Daly struck a compromise with the township, we agreed to allow them to build the 99 room byright hotel and conference center and they agreed to limit their impervious coverage to 11.7 acres. When a developer gives you his word it should be kept, especially with 42 eyewitnesses in the room. When someone gives me their word and a handshake, I expect that to mean something. Maybe my moral compass is old fashioned, but I think not, I hope that I have been able to pass that compass along to my children, grandchildren and their heirs. If you think that a Hotel, Bar, Restaurant, and a Conference Center are a legacy, I would question your moral fiber and your real exact interest in this business.

    The ARC led us to believe that they would sign a covenant limiting the impervious coverage to 15% or 11.7 acres, at the 11th hour they refused to sign that covenant. Now I learn at the planning commission meeting they stated that the impervious comverage would be 19 acres, and they would be disturbing 65 of the 78 acre site. This ordinance can be changed at any time in the future to allow 50%, 60%, 70% covereage, if the board of supervisors so choose. Currently under the ordinance they can apply for a conditional use to allow for a 200 or 300 room lodging facility. The next item here is an excerp from our covenant agreement that they refused to sign. “#4. All open space required pursuant to the proposed Ordinance, shall be restricted from further development. A conservation easement upon all required open space to the benefit of the County of Montgomery, Pennsylvania, shall be recorded at the time of land development.”

    And finally if you had a chance to read the ARC letter to the editor, they claim they only plan to take up less than 2 acres, the rest is trails, walkways and parking, if that were true, then 11.7 acres would surely have been overkill for their project. They also threaten the neighbors with 292 homes, that is nothing more than a scare tactic, on that 78 acre site, there is a high tension easement, a gas pipeline easement, a sewer pump station and collection system easement, these easements cannot be built upon. No buble plan was ever put together for this property to see how many houses could actually be built. My best estimate would put it somewhere between 85 to 95 houses taking into consideration the unbuildable land and areas needed for roads and stormwater retention.

    An as far as Toll Brothers being interested in buying the land, a little proof would be in order here.

  2. JR Former Resident Says:

    I am forwarding my message to Alex from the other thread, to this one:

    ALEX –

    Another comment on what you added to the story, above.

    It is either untrue or inappropriate for NPS to “lead them to the site” ARC wants to build on now.

    The park had an official ‘Land Protection Plan’ in place when the Toll property was purchased. It is clear that ALL undeveloped land should be protected.

    If what Alex says is true, someone needs to DOCUMENT who in the National Park Service would have violated policy in the approved land protection plan. If ARC is just making this up, then THAT should be documented.

    Alex’ statement that park boundaries are arbitrary ignores the plain fact that park boundaries are FEDERAL LAWS, whatever his opinion about their legitimacy. The truth is George Washington DID operate on both sides of the River when he set up his encampment at Valley Forge. The truth is that there were enormous strategic advantages of being able to cross the river at will to either evade the British or strike the British. It is true that the original park boundary on this side of the river was just a strip of land, but then the truth is Congress decided to expand it. It is true that some people argued that the new land in the boundary should be used for visitor center development, in the same way park alternatives always consider this or that land for development. But, the truth is the Park Service eventually determined that none of the undeveloped land on the north in the boundary should be developed, because in order to properly interpret Valley Forge this historic setting should remain undisturbed. The truth is the significance of the archeological material discovered was that it demonstrated that Washington did in fact use both sides of the river; the archeological material is not some sort of call for an archeological preserve, but for proper park management. The truth is, despite Alex’ demeaning of the sacred park land inside the boundary by calling it ‘arbitrary’ and implying that a development was considered feasible by the Park Service, no one in the National Park Service has ever prepared ANY such plan and environmental review and circulated it to the public [as would be the case with any real plan anyone could consider consistent with the Act of Congress adding this land to the park. The truth is, as has been covered by the Media elsewhere, park service officials for several years have spent their time negotiating to buy this land to keep it undeveloped, even to the point of asking a non-profit group to take an option to buy the property as a space saver.

    No one in the Park Service with any understanding of their responsibilities COULD have proposed to put this huge development on an undeveloped area of the park. Once before, Toll Brothers ALSO had said a park official proposed to agree that development with restrictions WOULD be appropriate, and at that time the Park Service and Senator Spector and Senator Santorum all said such a development could NEVER be appropriate, and reputiated any statements Toll claimed to have from an inexperienced official.

    Park officials are required to operate out in the open, in accordance with laws and policies, and would have to take changes in the purposes and use of a park to the public for review. Any other statement, as ARC must know, is not legitimate, and should be put in the light for review and explanation.

    Alex, you should know this too. Parks aren’t like private property to be developed at the whim of a landowner; Park Service people are public servants who’s job is to protect the park.

    At Gettysburg when the park superintendent several years ago and the Regional Director both permitted the railroad to make a road cut through the park without thorough review and explanation, both were removed.

    Face it, Alex, the only issue is why ARC and the park service could not agree to develop the center (without the hotel and revenue generators) in the existing development zone. That area was developed when the park service took it over, and all agreed it was the appropriate place. When Congress approved of the park service to develop an agreement for a joint center with ARC, Congress was told BY THE PARK SERVICE that the center would go in the area ALREADY DEVELOPED. All this was in writing at the time, given to Congress, in justification of the proposal. No park official ever went BACK to the Congress saying, never mind, now we think developing on the undeveloped land is OK.

    There are private lands all over America located within national parks. Almost always, unless specifically determined in law or policy, or subject to a rigorous review, it is assumed that all undeveloped land will remain undeveloped or should be acquired by the park service for protection.

    If Alex is implying there was some sort of insider deal here, and that is why the park service did not ask for the money to buy this land, then we should know the names of the individuals party to the deal, because anyone who knows anything about how parks are to be managed knows such a deal is wrong.

    JR
    (former resident, before King of Prussia development squeezed all local character out)

  3. John S. Kabli Says:

    Mr John S. Kabli, Founder
    American Colonial and Revolutinary War
    Preservation, Ltd
    610-524-6099
    jkabli@comcas.net

    Excerpt from a previous essay by me on Valley Forge and the
    American Revolution War Center

    Using Williamsburg, Virginia as a benchmark premiere historical site, additional
    commercial support of ARC would financially enhance an enterprise of this nature-
    the museum itself would never be able to sustain itself over an extended period of
    time. Museums, by their very nature, are not viable, financially sustainable,
    enterprises and would constantly require cash infusion from whatever source to
    maintain its mission.

    Williamsburg’s mission is accomplished through donor cash infusion, a lasting
    legacy created by John D. Rockefeller and his foundation, and a commercial/
    educational infrastructure that supports and enhances its’s historical functions.
    Without this infrastructure in close proximity in the historic triangle of Williamsburg,
    Jamestown, and Yorktown, the financial legacy, Williamsburg would never sustain
    its mission.

    Having said this, ARC does not have the luxury of a generous legacy nor an
    inplace commercial/educational infrastructure(architecturally- desireable to
    construct support commercial structures to blend in historically with the mission
    of ARC-that is, a historical look) to support a “museum”, and, without one or
    both parts of the equation in place, it will never survive.

    Now the question begs, can ARC please be allowed to proceed with its projects!
    The public has a notoriously short attention span, as well as patience, and it
    would enhance the mission of this enterprise if it could be allowed to proceed with
    its plan before we are too old and have lost total interest in “The American
    Revolution Center”, which certainly would be attractive to the region, given its
    close proximity to other northern campaign sites including historical Philadelphia,
    Chester County, New Jersey, and New York.

    John S. Kabli
    June 10, 2008

  4. Paoli Says:

    Dear Mr. Kabli:

    You do make some excellent points. And it is clear you understand the delicate balances that must be maintainted for a Williamsburg OR an ARC project to be developed, and sustained.

    However:

    Just to reflect on your own insights and sensibilities, it is clear ARC will not be able to be sustained on its present course.

    — Both ARC and the National Park Service behaved belligerently while negotiating the original plan. This cannot be. It is widely known that the ARC head routinely went to Washington over the head of local officials to get Director Fran Mainella to push aside the legitimate concerns of local park officials. This backfired on ARC, because all the local vetting and collaboration by local officials — essential in the NPS because of the park-centered management tradition — got pushed aside by the Washington Officials because ARC’s behavior convinced the officals that the local and regional park staff were not able to handle the situation. And Washinton, as we all know, is not equipped to do the detailed investigations and negotiations essential to delicatedly balanced partnerships. And, it further did not help that ARC actually went around the park officials to the congressional appropriations committee, and brought on the repeated intrusions of a highly domineering congressional staffer. This further destabilized method of win-win collaborations. ARC must learn to work collaboratively instead of belligerently.
    — ARC has to work out a win-win plan for both park and museum. The goals must be appropriate for the real needs here — protection and interpretation of a nationally important collection of the American Revolution.
    — Unlike Williamsburg, that must be self contained, ARC has the opportunity of collaborating with the NPS for bearing the cost of infrastructure, marketing, national reputation, and professional insight. Few agencies have the tradition of preservation that is commonplace in the NPS, and it is not likely that money can buy that kind of expertise for ARC. It comes from multiple careers of caring, experience and discerning judgements. ARC in short can leverage the presence of the park for infrastructure, for reputation and for professional expertise. It will be seen as arrogance by ARC if ARC employees do not act as if they understand these basic elements widely appreciated by the American people and Congress.
    — ARC does not need to build the sort of huge cash flow operation (hotels, visitor centers, commercial outlets) that Williamsburg has to support its operation, again because it can leverage assistance from the NPS (as the NPS can leverage assistance from ARC), and, again unlike Williamsburg, only needs the revenue and endowment necessary to sustain an operation to interpret and protect the important (joint) collection. Williamsburg’s mission is to create an entire working colonial landscape, with gardens, homes, workshops, churches, meeting halls, Inns, etc. None of these costs need to be carried here. ARC should turn a significant amount of the funding it would raise to build the convention center into an endowment to sustain the museum and the collection, and rely on the NPS for basics like road maintenance, sewage systems, water systems, utility systems and much more.
    — ARC and the NPS each must go back to the original location — the site of the existing center and parking lot — and put together a collaboration no more ambitious than required to meet the goals. It would appear to an outsider that ARC’s goals are now to show up the National Park Service for holding up the original plan. But success for ARC is not to throw an elbow, it must be to achieve a real collaboration with only as much development as required. ARC certainly should not be in the business of developing undeveloped portions of the park, or — even worse — disparaging the historic setting within the park boundary. This is hardly a way to build confidence that ARC has the professional insight and judgement needed to interpret and protect important historic collection. Such behavior enhances ARC’s reputation as belligerant and arrogant, with little respect for important traditions in historic preservation.
    At the same time, it must be said NPS has handled this badly. The former Director, Fran Mainella, one of the least regarded official in George Bush’s presidency, confused everything. Her immediate subordinates were alarmed at her judgements and felt obliged to reshape or undermine many of her decisions, including her early support for ARC. The park staff was seen as in the pocket of ARC and ignored, and the Regional Director in Philadelphia, who was trying to find common ground, was destroyed when the Washington officials inserted in her performance review standards the requirement that she get ARC under control — another way of telling her she would be fired. Then the park service brought in a new officials with almost now personal experience in bringing major developments or partnerships on line. ALL OF THIS CONFUSION WAS CREATED BECAUSE ARC WOULD NOT WORK LOCALLY UNTIL A COLLABORATIVE PLAN THAT WAS A WIN-WIN WAS SUPPORTED BY ALL.

    The bottom line, Mr. Kabli if you truly seek the great benefits I agree are available to ARC and Valley Forge and historical Philadelphia, Chester County — maybe even NJ & NY (?) is to encourage ARC and the NPS to develop an appropriately-scoped Mission Statement, the humility of realizing they are supposedly working for American Heritage and the American People (not personal triumph) and find a way to reposition this project in its original location.

    Otherwise, it will unfortunately fail.

    Our elected officials need to knock the heads together of these partnership neophytes in ARC and the NPS, and make them back off their belligerance and come up with a proper project in a proper place, or risk the loss of all support.

    Remember Paoli !

  5. Cinda Waldbuesser Says:

    I have reposted my message from the previous threat below.

    Cinda Waldbuesser, National Parks Conservation Association Says:

    June 6, 2008 at 4:27 pm
    Alex,

    Thanks for your coverage of this issue. As someone who has been deeply engaged with this issue, I would like to respond to some of your comments from your posting.

    To put the issue in perspective first: the intense interest and emotion this issue generates illustrates how many Americans, both locally and nationwide, care deeply about Valley Forge. This truly is a national issue. Valley Forge today is a national icon where visitors can contemplate who we are as a nation. If the Continental Army’s encampment grounds can be lost to this outsized, commercialized museum complex, no site, however historic, is safe.

    How it started
    In 1999, Congress authorized the NPS to work with what is now the ARC to build an American Revolution museum. Together, they planned the museum to be built on already-disturbed land near the park’s Welcome Center. For years the two entities worked to move this partnership forward, together producing the museum building design, among other things. While the road was bumpy, when the ARC ended the partnership most of the stated conflicts had been resolved, and the NPS believed they were making progress on resolving the remainder. When the NPS and ARC initially discussed the Pawlings Farm, ARC was proposing a museum — not the outsized, commercialized complex ARC now plans.

    Others successfully partner with the NPS on comparable projects
    The NPS has a proven record of successful, comparably-sized partnerships with private partners — for example, the new museum-visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park, the Constitution Center, and the visitor center at Independence National Historical Park. It’s unclear why the NPS requirements in effect for those partnership projects are too onerous for the ARC to operate with at Valley Forge.

    Preservation remains an option
    There are other choices beyond the outsized, commercialized ARC museum complex, and housing. Remember the national campaign just a few years ago when Toll Brothers wanted to build a luxury subdivision on other historic, private land in the park? There was enormous public outcry. In the end, Senator Specter secured federal grants for the NPS to buy the land from Toll Brothers. A new proposed housing complex would meet as much — or more — opposition as the ARC proposal is now facing. The public strongly supports adding this historic land to the park, as Congress intended.

    To paraphrase Forrest Gump: Open space is as open space does
    Finally, the new ordinance approved last September has many flaws. Land planners and landscape architects who have reviewed the new ordinance find it quite weak. For example, the ordinance defines open space to includes sidewalks, stormwater management ponds, and courtyards — astonishing, illogical — and true.

    ARC’s current plans will disturb 70 percent of this historic land, and remove more than half of existing woods and other vegetation. The site plans tell the story. Little true open space will remain.

    The Continental Army’s encampment grounds should be protected
    Actually, boundary lines for protected areas usually represent difficult compromises between political considerations and the need for historic and natural resources protection. A scholar who spent a decade studying the original encampment documents says that the lands at risk from the ARC project are just as historic as any other lands inside the park boundary.


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