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.”