Friday, March 22, 2013

Plan to construct skyscrapers surrounding Valley Forge Park moving forward

Valley Forge, Pa.--Wow! It's official. Some how, some way, it's official. A plan that appears to turn the already traffic-clogged King of Prussia area into an skyscraper haven is moving forward. No, we're not talking about one high-rise at the edge of Valley Forge Park. This is a plan to "completely surround" the park with office and residential towers no less than 50 stories in height.

At one time, the 3,500-acre park, known for hosting George Washington's encampment during the brutal winter of 1777-1778, seemed miles from development: a massive open preserved space surrounded by farms. But, the Philadelphia metropolitan area, during its march west, long ago engulfed this area of rolling hills that the first president so coveted for defense purposes from a possible British attack.

The park, which sits in Chester and Montgomery Counties, is surrounded by development especially to the east where King of Prussia's office parks, giant mall, numerous strip malls, Hooters, and California-like highway interchanges are a stone's throw from the historic treasure.

"Valley Forge will now be very similar to New York City's Central Park. That was sort of our goal with this plan. Massive skyscrapers will line the pastoral national historical park on both the Montgomery County side and Chester County side," said Gilbert Van Scott, a real estate developer with LandGrab and Associates, a division of Rolle Siblings.

Currently, the area around the park is zoned for buildings no higher than eight stories in Upper Merion Township (King of Prussia), while on the western edge Schuylkill Township is zoned singe family detached housing. Tredyffrin (south), Lower Providence (north) and West Norriton (north) have also agreed to the plan and will change zoning as called for. Variances have been obtained in all municipalities that would allow for 80- to 100-story buildings.

"It's 2012," said Dan Hildebrand, 52, a resident of Schuylkill Township. "Isn't it time we do this? I mean, we really should be building higher. There's an old saying about density that for the life of me I can't remember right now. But it was a pretty good little saying."

Speaking of density: Can an area almost exclusively dependent on the automobile for transportation absorb this dramatic increase in density? How will all these new residents and workers get around? Density can be good, but we generally place our tallest buildings in central cities, not on the suburban fringe where the public transit system has less of a presence. Cities allow for walking and biking because there are more opportunities close by for retail, jobs, and dining to name a few.

However, a study released last month by the Suburban Skyscraper Association of America (SSAA) found that skyscrapers located in suburbs are good for the surrounding community. "The study basically asked all of SSAA's staff, who are all big proponents of skyscrapers in suburbs, whether they thought suburban skyscrapers were a good idea. They all did. It's hard to go against a study like this that shows such overwhelming evidence that very, very tall suburban buildings are such a good thing," said Carol Eversby, SSAA's director of studies.

One building already designed for the edge of the park is 74 stories tall, and the first 43 of these stories are all dedicated to parking. Each apartment unit will have twelve spaces for parking.

"I'm sorta bummed out about the plan," said Jeff Harris, 41, a former Manhattan resident who now lives in Tredyffrin Township in Chester County. "The shadows of the buildings will really shade a lot of the park like it does in Central Park. And, I just think traffic will be a mess. I'm going to see if I can work from home."

Construction on the first tower, the 56-story Upper Forge Center in the parking lot of the Valley Forge Casino, will begin in July of this year.

"We're excited, they're excited, the whole gang down at SSAA is excited. Let's get these buildings going and we'll worry about the traffic/transportation/congestion aspect after most of the towers are up," said Kyle Rolle, at a news conference where he enthusiastically led the fired-up crowd in a version of the slow clap, fast clap.

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