Despite opposition from the National Park Service and park advocacy groups, a development proposed for land bounded on three sides by Valley Forge National Historic Park has been given the green light by community planners.
The decision Wednesday night by the Lower Providence Township Planning Commission to recommend approval of the American Revolutionary Center's museum development furthers the divide between the Park Service and the ARC.
For more than a decade the affair between Valley Forge officials and ARC flickered hot and cold. In 1999 the budding romance burned brightly as Congress authorized a partnership between the Park Service and the Valley Forge Historical Society, which later transformed into ARC, to build a museum dedicated to the American Revolution. At the time the project was viewed as the perfect complement to the park's Welcome Center, on the south side of the Schuylkill River.
While the Park Service still would like very much to see a museum built near the Welcome Center, the non-profit American Revolution Center is smitten with a 78-acre parcel on the river's north side that embraces meadows, wetlands, and forests cut by two streams. Known to locals as the Pawling Farm, the acreage also happens to be surrounded on three sides by the historical park and long has been cherished by the Park Service for addition to Valley Forge, if only it could ever afford it.
What greatly concerns the Park Service, and what has prompted the National Parks Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and even locally elected officials to challenge and speak out against ARC's decision to abandon its Park Service partnership in favor of the Pawling Farm, is what the non-profit could - not necessarily 'would,' but 'could' -- erect on that bucolic sweep of land. In all, they say nearly 20 acres, or roughly one-quarter of the 78, could be impacted to some degree by development.
A "Living History Overlay District" zoning ordinance that the opponents say ARC's representatives helped craft "allows a building footprint of over a half-a-million square feet. It allows an unlimited amount of sidewalks, plazas, and pervious paving, including parking lots," says Barbara Pollarine, the park's deputy superintendent.
During its meeting Wednesday night the planning commission recommended that the township's Board of Supervisors approve the ARC plans to build the museum complex even though NPCA officials believe the development would threaten the historic landscape at Valley Forge.
"The location, scope, and scale of this commercial development proposal will have detrimental effects on the historic character of Valley Forge," maintains Cinda Waldbuesser, NPCA's Pennsylvania program manager.
NPCA says ARC's proposal will:
* Destroy lands with historic significance. Based on his near-decade of reviewing original encampment documents, historian Dr. Wayne Bodle of Indiana University of Pennsylvania has stated the land now owned by the ARC and planned for intensive development in fact is "just as 'hallowed' as any other lands" in the park.
* Destroy invaluable open space. The north side of the park provides open space for people and the best wildlife habitat in the entire park, in turn attracting visitors. ARC's plans, according to NPCA, include disturbing approximately 70 percent of the site, leaving only a small amount of land as what most would consider as open space.
* Add noise, light, traffic, and storm water runoff, and the visual intrusion of the parking lots, buildings, and other aspects of this museum complex.
In addition, NPCA says building the museum in a location so far removed from the current center of park visitation will create two competing centers of gravity, creating a confusing visitor experience.
The planning commission did stipulate that before final permits could be given for the first phase of the project, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission must review archaeological studies of the 78 acres. The Board of Supervisors is expected to make a final decision on the development proposal as early as June 23. To review ARC's preliminary plans, visit this site.