- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (AP) A plan to build luxury homes within Valley Forge National Historical Park has sparked a new battle where George Washington's ragged Continental Army spent a miserable winter nearly 225 years ago.
The proposal by Toll Brothers Inc. to build 62 houses on private property within the park, about 20 miles from Philadelphia, is causing an outcry from preservationists and park users who say that land is sacred.
"Valley Forge truly is a national shrine and one that should be one of America's best national parks, not a park under siege," said Joy Oakes of the National Parks Conservation Association.
A 1999 report by National Park Trust identified 110,000 acres of privately owned property in and next to 20 national parks as being at greatest risk of being sold for commercial purposes. The land in question is valued at more than $70 million.
The development by Toll Brothers, the nation's largest builder of luxury homes, would be built on the site of a former tree nursery for which the company has an agreement of sale. Named Valley Forge Overlook, the project would command views of the rolling countryside where about 11,000 Revolutionary War soldiers camped from December 1777 to June 1778. Worn out by a lack of food, clothing and decent shelter, more than 2,000 soldiers died.
"We believe the land was set aside to be protected for the American people forever," said Bob Krumenaker, deputy park superintendent.
The tree nursery is separated from the park's main section by the Schuylkill River and a highway, and it's not clear whether any houses would actually be seen from Washington's headquarters, the Washington Memorial Chapel and other landmarks.
However, the development would be visible from a road cutting through the park and from a little-used park-owned tract called the Fatlands, Mr. Krumenaker said.
Robert Toll, the developer's chairman and chief executive officer, said he would cooperate if the National Park Service wanted to acquire the land.
In a statement, Mr. Toll noted the property is "not part of the operating park" and that there is no access from the park to the land. He added that the company had agreed to preserve views from the park.
According to Mr. Toll, the park's general management plan notes that development of "areas around the park is not considered to be an intrusion." Park officials said they are in the process of rewriting that plan.
In recent years, Valley Forge has come under considerable development pressure because of its proximity to major highways and the vagaries of congressional funding. More than 2 million people visit the park annually, according to the Valley Forge Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Congress expanded the park's boundaries after designating it a national historical park in 1976. The Park Service was able to purchase hundreds of acres of private land within the new borders, but Congress did not appropriate enough money to finish the job, park officials say.
As a result, about 460 of the park's 3,466 acres are privately owned. Those tracts include an old trailer park obscured by trees, a few houses, church property, open space, and the tree nursery.
Mr. Krumenaker said the trailer park and church property also could be vulnerable to development. The park is already surrounded by office complexes and hotels.
Mr. Toll still needs approval from the Lower Providence Township supervisors, who plan to vote Jan. 17. While there has been no decision, Township Manager Dan Olpere said the board is limited in what it can do, because the land is zoned for residential use.
"If the developer meets all the conditions, it is difficult to really stop it effectively for the long term," Mr. Olpere said.
Two U.S. lawmakers from Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel and Republican Sen. Arlen Specter want to designate the land as a veterans cemetery, citing a need for burial space for war veterans. But park officials oppose that idea as well, fearing it would interfere with the park's value as a historical site.
Regular park users said they just want the land to be left alone.
"I understand [the company] wants to build," said Richard Way, 67, who has been coming to the park for 40 years. "But sometimes, you have to walk away from something for the public good."

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