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Horsham Township Council Says 'No' to Runway

The council moves forward with plans to acquire roads bordering air base

Although it ultimately has no say in the redevelopment of the , the formalized its opposition of continued use of the site’s runway.

On Monday, the governing body, following a lengthy public comment session from a handful of the approximate 40 people in attendance, approved a resolution expressing the council’s disfavor for “any aviation” use on the 8,000-foot runway, which is situated in the sprawling 1,100-acre parcel.

During the public comment session, which was peppered with lots of community questions regarding , as well as applications for use of the runway, Council President Mark McCouch urged residents to attend monthly Horsham Land Reuse Authority meetings to voice opposition to future runway use.

“The council has as much strength and power as the people who are standing behind us,” McCouch said. “We’re hoping through meetings like this and people attending the HLRA meetings … that we can be that force. We can be a major force in the decision making if we have the people of Horsham Township behind us.”

Township Manager Bill Walker said neighboring communities, including Montgomery Township and Warminster, have shown support as well by either writing a letter opposing runway use, or approving a resolution similar to Horsham's. 

After the meeting, McCouch acknowledged that the HLRA and the federal government would ultimately decide the fate of the 892 acres up for redevelopment at the air base and could trump any municipal position. 

“They could, yes,” McCouch said. “I would hope they would take our opinion” into consideration.

Regardless, it may be months – or even years - before any of the are given the green light to move forward. The HLRA and its consultant,, is analyzing the site to determine the condition of existing infrastructure, as well as environmental issues and weighing each of the possibilities against the expected economic benefit, officials have said. The HLRA has until December to submit a redevelopment plan to the Department of Defense. The federal government must approve the redevelopment plan before any land can be transferred to entities and prior to any new construction or development.

Horsham resident Michael Blasek took issue with the Bucks County Airport Authority – which operates airports in Doylestown and Quakertown – trying to set up in Horsham.

“I don’t understand how Bucks County can tell Horsham Township what they want to do,” Blasek said. “Why don’t they build in Bucks County? They have enough cornfields they can level.”

W. William Whiteside, who chairs the HLRA and abstained from voting Monday night because of his dual role, said it’s up to the community to make sure their voices are heard.

“The closure of the military installation is a federal process and there are federal regulations,” he said.

One of those regulations is to allow governmental, educational, health care and certain nonprofits – especially those providing homeless housing – to apply for federal land at either dramatically reduced rates or free of charge. The two potential airport operators fall into those categories.

Walker said it will be summer before the HLRA publicly discusses the 16 notices of interest. The HLRA’s next meeting is April 20 at 7 p.m. in the t. 

While that process moves slowly forward, Walker said the base is quickly emptying out. The from the runway last week during the base’s disestablishment ceremony. Fewer than 100 people are living on the base today, Walker said, adding that reservists have stopped coming to the site for weekend drills.

And, although Sept. 15 is the base’s set closure date, Walker said, “As of July 1 there will be no Navy personnel on the base.”

 “We have many changes coming upon us in the township,” Walker said.

In preparation for the changes that the council hopes await, township planner E. Van Rieker gave a brief presentation Monday regarding the creation of a township map in the vicinity of the air base. The map is being created in conjunction with the for ultimate right of way access for four roads bordering the air base.

The four new road stems and official rights of way are subject to preservation unless you waive them,” Van Rieker said.

The purpose of the map, which is expected to be adopted at the council’s June 27 or July 13 meeting, is aimed at “solidifying our position” with the township’s notices of interest, Walker said. The application for the rights of way in particular, goes hand-in-hand with the council’s opposition to future runway use. If that application is granted, it would squash plans for an airport because Horsham intends to extend roadways through the base and the existing runway.

The overall intent is to provide access through the air base in an attempt to better handle some of the township’s traffic congestion, Walker said.

“Everyone is trying to find a way around this base to get to where they’re going,” Walker said. 

Yet, resident Michael Guarnaccia, who expressed opposition to an airport, said the township could be getting ahead of itself with the map creation.

“The clearer message to the community is this could be a runway,” Guarnaccia said. “This could be an airport.”

Tara April 05, 2011 at 11:26 AM
I didn't move to Horsham to live 5 blocks from an airport!
M.K. April 05, 2011 at 11:35 AM
Well Tara maybe you shoulndt have moved to Horsham! That airport has been there since the early 40's! What did you expect???
Viper April 05, 2011 at 01:02 PM
This airport is vital to the east coast. We sit between NYC and Washington DC and if anything was to happen,this airport could serve as a hub for aid. Iwould like to see FEMA and Homeland Security get involved on this issue. I remember the air shows that were put on and the attendance was at least 250,000. These were people that were spending money at local establishments and boosting the economy in the twp. But heck with that, We need more roads!!! This was a airport long before there were houses in this twp. People knew that there was a airport here and they still moved here anyway.
M.K. April 05, 2011 at 01:18 PM
I agree with you Viper, 100%!!!!
Kevin April 05, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Having trained Military personnel flying over Horsham is one thing. Having someone out for flying lessons flying over our schools is something different. Having commercial traffic in this area will decrease our safety over our schools and will decrease our property values.
M.K. April 05, 2011 at 01:45 PM
From what I have read, there are two groups that are interested in keeping and operating the airfied, and neither one of them ever mentioned using it for commercial, cargo, or lessons! It would be used for private, corprate jets (which by the way, are some of the quietest planes!). That would attract a lot of businesses and therefore more jobs for our area!
Tom Plefka April 05, 2011 at 05:24 PM
TP I totally agree with Viper and M.K. Keep the runway operational! It is such a valuable asset. Some are acting as if planes will be falling out of the sky! The activist groups have done a wonderful job instilling false fears in peoples minds. I think this base would serve a great purpose as a general aviation field with Homeland Security/FEMA functions.
M.K. April 05, 2011 at 06:16 PM
im starting to think that those of us who believe keeping the air strip there and in use is a good idea, should start going to township and hlra meetings to voice our opinions! it seems like the only ones going and speaking up are those that are so against it!! we need our voices to be heard as well!! i think im going to start going.....but im not very good at speaking up in large groups :-(
Sentry April 05, 2011 at 06:22 PM
PA has 133 airports with 106 being for general aviation. Private pilots have plenty of choices of airports to use. The residents of Horsham have been good citizens for the last 70 years hosting the Willow Grove Base. Since the early 1940's when the base was built Horsham and the surrounding communities have grown greatly. Horsham has three schools in the most dangerous crash zones. If you don't think crashes occur you haven't live in Horsham for very long. FEMA and Homeland Security feel Maguire-Dix can service this area. If BCAA or Montgomery County try to keep this airport open they will hear from thousands of Horsham residents.
Sentry April 05, 2011 at 06:35 PM
If MK and others want to express their opinion come on out to the next meeting. Being able to express opinions freely is one of the things that make America the greatest country in the world. As far as those quieter jets you mention and BCAA mentioned in the newspaper as the Gulfstream 650 one crashed last week in NM killing 4 which included two of the top Gulfstream test pilots. Experienced pilots crashed on takeoff. The Hallowell School , The Quaker School, and Keith Valley are right off the WG runway. I'm guessing you don't have kids at thes schools-right?
R. Johnson April 05, 2011 at 06:47 PM
The runway should stay. I don't have a lot of faith in FEMA or Homeland to really protect us When push comes to shove in an emergency, it';s nice to know we don't have to wait for help from Maguire/Fort Dix , we can recieve it locally. How many times has it been said.... if we only knew then .. Let's not have one of those moments down the road. RJ
M.K. April 05, 2011 at 07:44 PM
As a matter of fact, I do have a child at one of those schools. And I grew up going to the schools around the runway. You have a better chance of being killed in a car on any of the roads around here, then you do by a plane crashing!!
Tom Plefka April 05, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Sentry, I respect your opinion but respectfully disagree. Did you have those same concerns when the built the schools so close to the airbase? Nobody would ever want to see, God forbid, an accident to occur but based on your point why did they build the schools so close to the airbase then? Accidents can happen to military aircraft as well. I've lived in Horhsam since 1976 aso I know full well that accidents can occur but I also know that thousands and thousands of planes take off and land succesfully everyday...but we never talk about that. Yes...I have kids as well as nephews and nieces in the school district.
Sentry April 05, 2011 at 07:57 PM
You might be right but planes coming out of the Base were military trained pilots flying military maintained planes. Any Bozo can get a pilots license in a year and buy a piece of shit airplane for the price of a used car. They can even do some of their own repairs. Remember the Bazaar crash is now where the new Horsham Athletic Club is located. You want the runway come to a meeting and stand up and express yourself.
resesq April 05, 2011 at 08:17 PM
I'm not sure that people really appreciate what having an airport in Horsham means - not a military base with major flight operations, but an airport. Two entirely different things. The military voluntarily agreed to restrict flight hours while the base was operational, and we all remember the two pilots who following the air show accident years ago rode their plane all the way to the ground to protect the residents behind the Horsham Water Authority, and paid for it with their lives. I have no such confidence in a civil/corporate airport scenario. The Bucks County Airport Authority (BUCKS COUNTY, people!! They couldn't expand the runway at Doylestown and now they are using Horsham to get what they want, without any detriment to THEIR residents' quality of life) has announced its intentions to obtain initial funding throught the FAA - the FAA's grants for military to civil airport transitions requires 24/7 operation of any airport so funded, and the FAA has sole jurisdiction over airport authorities (not Horsham, not the the state, not any other entity). There is a HUGE difference between the number of flights we saw while the base was under military operation and the number of flights that would results in the operation of a civilian/corporate airport. Horsham residents are very naive if they think they will have any control over air traffic. There are other more creative, financially viable uses for this land than an airport, and my support will be behind those.
Donald Smith April 05, 2011 at 08:59 PM
On September 15, 2011 The Willow Grove Naval Air Station will be part of history along with the rumbling and rattling of Horsham Township windows. Perhaps the ultimate relief will be end of the constant threat of disaster from real crash memories of the past! The days of constant noise all weekend long will be gone. For many locals including myself elated comes to mind. The decision to allow an airport to remain should be up to the residence of Horsham Township - no one else. People who live outside Horsham Township limits are welcome to their opinion but the yes or no vote on future airports should be ours and ours alone. Horsham Township residence have paid their price over the last Forty years and are paid in full so please don't try and tell use what we need, we can decide that on our own.
Joe Maguire April 05, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Donald I Agee with you let the Horsham residents decide what goes on re the airport not outside parties. A 24/7 365 airport is not in the best interest of anybody in Horsham.
S.B. April 06, 2011 at 01:46 AM
Bringing more business to the area is always a great benefit. I'd rather see an airport with open beautiful area, like it is now, then to see it developed into something else. That area has always funtioned fine as an airport. Simply stated as above, it has been that way for how long? If you live that close now??? Someone explain it to me, I don't get that one??
Donald Smith April 06, 2011 at 03:14 AM
First of all where do you live S.B.? Bringing more business to the area is a great idea at what cost? What danger to the residence? An open beautiful area is great but let's not be so foolish to believe all development is bad. A compromise of open space and controlled development would be ideal. My opinion is no runway use but let's let the township residence decide. S.B. if you like the airport maybe you can propose one in your township. We tolerated the Willow Grove Naval Air Base because we had to. Now that it's about to close we have a choice and my choice is no runway!
Michael Blasek April 06, 2011 at 01:47 PM
MK and VIPER don't seem to understand that we knew it was a MILITARY installation!!! Please tell me what Bucks Co. Airport Assoc has to do with Military. The flights were limited because they were not under pressure to make a profit. If you were at the meeting they said that this was going to be for COMMERCIAL use. As a Horsham resident, I want to be treated by the BRAC commision like all of the municipalities in the past.
M.K. April 06, 2011 at 02:40 PM
I completely understand it was a MILITARY installation....since I grew up right across the street from it, and my Dad served there, and my husband does now!
Sentry April 18, 2011 at 02:24 PM
There is a very important meeting this Wednesday 4/20 @ 7:00 @ the Horsham Community Center. Please come out and let the HLRA know we don't want an Airport in Horsham!!!
Tara April 18, 2011 at 04:29 PM
It was air base NOT an airport in 1973 when we moved to PA.
Tara April 18, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Agreed.
Tara April 18, 2011 at 04:34 PM
It never functioned as an airport. It was a military base with military planes and restricted flying. Entirely different from an airport.
Joe Nonemaker April 21, 2011 at 02:03 PM
I understand that there is some sort of a 'law' that says that once a military airbase is closed it's runways must remain intact for at least 25 years after the closing in the event of a National emergency. This is only something that I have heard about and I have never confirmed. Dear Horsham Twp. residents (who are opposing aircraft activity at this location) may I suggest SECTION 8 HOUSING INSTEAD!!! Gees, with a property this size the Government could put up some nice high rises and get so many poor people off of the streets; or..how about another giant CVS or RITE AID on each corner and a GIANT mall in the middle...we do need more shopping malls.
Tara April 21, 2011 at 02:13 PM
How about a Main Street, mixed use, Community center, Skate park, Hospital, University, etc... Roads through it from 611 to Horsham rd. to alleviate traffic congestion. Bottom line the impact on the Quality of life of HORSHAM residents should be considered FIRST. If the Bucks County residents want/need an airport so badly why aren't they fighting for it in their own township? Part of the BRAC process does consider housing for the homeless and special needs a primary focus.
Joe Coffee April 22, 2011 at 06:44 PM
YES TO THE AIRPORT!!!!!! The continued use as an Airport will prevent further development in the Township. I don not want more crime in the area that building a Mega Mall will create. The people who want to rip up the Airstrip want to build Malls and Commercialize that property. Horsham Township will no longer be rural and Horsham Road will once again become a disaster to drive down. Rt. 611 has not been modified since it was constructed in the 1950's and don't expect it to be any wider when the commercialization occurs. Don't forget that commercialization of the property extends beyond the fences of the WGNAS!!! Commercialization will include the land parcels North and South of the Airstrip... I want Horsham Township to be the same as it was when there was a Airbase there!!! SAY YES TO THE AIRSTRIP IS SAYING YES I DON'T WANT ANY MORE COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT!!!!

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