On Wednesday night, the board’s consultant, RKG Associates, presented a final view of what the property could look like dotted with 1,416 mixed-use residences, a 13-acre aviation museum, a 40-acre middle school, a robust town center and regional recreational area, an estimated 70 housing units for the homeless and a 133-acre office park expected to create more than 7,000 jobs – and a $457 million annual payroll - upon build out.
The culmination of a “close to final” plan, according to HLRA Chairman William Whiteside, has led the board to its last hurdle before approving the reuse blueprint at its March 21 meeting: Public comment. For the next 30 days, the community can share their comments with the HLRA via email or by calling Horsham Township at 215-643-3131.
A handful of the several dozen in attendance Wednesday questioned why the seven-acre parcel proposed for the homeless was situated near recreational space and the area adjacent to the middle school.
HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee said it was important to “integrate” the homeless into the community and consultant Russell Archambault said the area near the main gate, off of Privet Road, is the only parcel with access to public transportation.
The question left unanswered is how the nearly $145 million in combined public and private infrastructure costs – including $10 million for roads, $15 million to raze buildings, $17 million to demolish the runway and $60 million for water and sewer lines – will be funded.
“How this all gets paid for is yet to be determined,” Archambault said.
The bigger question perhaps is if area taxpayers will be saddled with the cost of removing the runway for an airport it firmly rejected. McGee said a military base redevelopment project in Glenview, Ill. was expected to cost $23 million for runway removal, but was whittled down to $3 million because the materials were used to construct new roads.
“The taxpayers will pay – federal taxpayers,” McGee said.
Typically, McGee said the cost of necessary improvements is deducted from the land value paid to the government upon property acquisition.
“I firmly believe the value of the property is a negative number,” McGee said.
Ultimately, the purchase price for the land will be negotiated between the HLRA and the government with upgrades and environmental impacts all factored in, he said.
HLRA board member Steven Nelson said he was concerned that the cost projections were estimated too low and would be much higher.
"My fear is that this is going to go to the Navy with sort of half of the information," Nelson said. "I think this lacks some critical information."
While the board took no action Wednesday, McGee reaffirmed his hope that the HLRA’s intent to acquire the property through an economic development conveyance be included in the plan set to be approved and submitted to the federal government by March 31. The Navy will decide how the property is transferred, McGee said, noting that the government could sell the land at a public sale, meaning that Horsham could only "control" the final development outcome by virtue of its zoning.
An economic development conveyance, on the other hand, would require “some sort of upfront payment,” as well as a commitment of future revenues, but would give the community “maximum flexibility,” according to Archambault, who, along with his firm, RKG Associates, has overseen 50 military base redevelopment projects.
Described previously as a type of “layaway,” McGee said the notion of an economic development conveyance – in which the HLRA could serve as the site’s master developer – in no way encumbers future boards or local government to follow that protocol.
“Right up until the deeds are transferred,” McGee said of the two- to five-year process, “we can always back out.”