As the Navy continues with its two-year-long environmental impact statement of 862 acres of shuttered Willow Grove air base, local officials said the land will not be home to flying missions in its next life.
The Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority reiterated its mantra Wednesday, on the heels of a pair of Navy open house meetings in which four options - including an airfield - were presented on posters to the public.
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Officials said phones have been ringing and email inboxes have been flooded by residents concerned over the possibility of an airport. Their question, officials said, is why the flight alternative is part of the equation again.
The runway closed in March 2011 and the HLRA, since soundly rejecting it in July 2011, said it has no plans to reopen it. The Navy, HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee said, is following the law in presenting other redevelopment options in addition to the locally approved plan.
"They are required as part of the (environmental impact statement) to study alternatives in addition to the HLRA approved plan," McGee told Patch. "They stated at the open house and in their handouts that they will dispose of the property in a manner consistent with the HLRA redevelopment plan and it will be subject to zoning and other land use controls and restrictions that might be placed on the property by Horsham Township and/or the HLRA."
McGee said consideration of the additional redevelopment options causes the "confusion."
"Some people actually think that the Navy is studying all of those options as alternatives to our plan," McGee said, adding that the federal government is "not going to be second guessing" the local board. "The HLRA approved the redevelopment plan and htat’s how the project’s going to be built out."
Besides the airfield option and the HLRA's preferred redevelopment, the Navy also showed an alternative involving higher density housing - 1,999 units instead of 1,486 units.
The other option the Navy is reviewing is the "no action alternative," which would keep the land as it is now, vacant and unused and owned by the federal government. Officials have said this option is highly unlikely because the Navy's intent, as McGee puts it, is to "get rid of the property" as quickly as possible, while making money on its transfer.
The HLRA, during Wednesday's meeting, approved the submission of a letter to David Drozd, director BRAC Program Management Office Northeast, highlighting long-held local concerns related to the base's redevelopment.
The three-page letter listed traffic; remediation of existing environmental sites; non-existent water supplies and sewage treatment; stormwater control and "significant flooding problems in the region"; the benefits of open space and a new middle school for Hatboro-Horsham School District; and an airfield reuse alternative as concerns.
The letter asks that the Navy consider the "negative impact of the aviation use to economic redevelopment," as well as the "resulting impact to the quality of life and real estate values."
The HLRA's plan, which is anchored on a 133-acre office park projected to create more than 7,000 jobs and a $457 million annual payroll upon build out, would better address the need for economic development, according to McGee's letter.
Further, according to McGee's letter, an airport, as a tax-exempt entity, would negatively impact local tax streams, including the Hatboro-Horsham School District, which typically receives $650,000 in federal impact aid per year. Once the land is transferred out of federal ownership, those monies would disappear.
Until last summer, the airport was one of several options under HLRA review.
"The HLRA's development plan studied in great detail the potential for an airport use at the site and concluded that the market would not support the use," McGee wrote in the letter. "Since that time the aviation demand had continued to decline in the region."
Share your two cents
Those with concerns related to an airport, other redevelopment uses, or the site's environmental factors can send comments to the Navy through Dec. 31. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to 215-897-4902, or mailed to: Director, BRAC Program Management Office Northeast, Attn: Willow Grove EIS 4911 South Broad St., Building 679, Philadelphia PA 19112-1303.
The Navy will be presenting its draft environmental impact statement in summer 2013. The process is expected to conclude by winter 2014. See the attached PDFs for more details.