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Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base

Consultants presented three concepts without an airport and two with an airport as part of the redevelopment process for Willow Grove air base.

During a sometimes contentious meeting which pitted Horsham residents against non-residents, about 150 community members gathered Saturday afternoon to see five conceptual drawings of what the Willow Grove air base could look like. 

The colorful renderings - three of which featured an airport-less 892-acre parcel - were the outgrowth of two three-hour  in which more than 500 people mapped out their preferred uses. A team of consultants hired to guide the redevelopment process convened Saturday at 8 a.m. for a where common themes were extracted. Then, from noon to 4 p.m. the group met behind closed doors to sketch out rough renderings of what 8 percent of Horsham Township could become. 

Mike McGee, executive director of the Horsham Land Reuse Authority - the board tasked with adopting a redevelopment plan - stressed that the drawings are just that. 

"They're not recommendations of the consultants," McGee said after the meeting, adding that the plans do not represent the three yet-to-be-finalized base redevelopment alternatives. "They're not vetted. They are absent any review of the NOIs."

The consultants' recommendation based on the , or notices of interest submitted by entities ranging from the YMCA, to , homeless service providers, and others, will happen in July, officials have said. Two of the most widely-discussed applicants are and the  Both have expressed interest in keeping the 8,000-foot-long runway open. 

The very mention of an airport drew the ire of some Horsham residents Saturday. Several people spoke in favor of keeping the air strip open, which drew applause from a few and shouts from residents inquiring where the speakers resided. 

One man, who identified himself as a Horsham resident, asked the consultants how they would assess who is and who is not part of the community.

"How are you going to discount their input?" he asked. 

Simply put, Russell Archambault of RKG Associates, said that's not what he was hired to do.

"We take every idea or opinion at face value," Archambault said. "This is a series of generalized opinions."

In four of the five drawings showcasing those opinions, a town center, featuring a mixed-use development, was a central theme.

Within the town center concept, which varied slightly from plan to plan, other uses - including diverse residential developments; affordable senior housing and retirement facilities; a myriad of entertainment centers in the vein of the Mann Center or Keswick Theatre; restaurants; unique retail; walkability with the inclusion of trails and connectors; high-paying jobs; and "green" building facilities - were woven throughout. 

In one of the two concepts depicting an airport, the town center was still present, along with commercial, office space, green innovation industry and institutional/medical facilities. As sketched, the plan calls for the runway to be shortened to 6,000 feet, which the consultants said could still accommodate corporate aircraft and allow other uses to coexist. 

"I have not spoken to anybody  at all that wants a town center next to an airport," a Horsham resident said to applause from most in attendance. 

Another man said the airport versus no airport notion should be put on a referendum. Horsham Township solicitor Mary Eberle, who also represents the HLRA, said a referendum is not permitted for reuse of a military property.

"That doesn't sound like democracy," the man responded. 

Archambault said if Montgomery County and the Bucks County Airport Authority "meet the technical requirements" they could be considered moving forward. 

"It's up to the board to make that call," Archambault said of the HLRA. "These are folks that represent your interests."

Joe June 20, 2011 at 06:33 PM
I lived right behind the runway of Warminster NADC (NAWC) for years while active and inactive, and never had a problem with the base. I believe that an airport of any kind creates an identity for that town. Once the government shut down the Warminster base, I believe we lost part of our identity and history. Yes they have a museum and a park (which they totally dropped the ball on) but what else? Nothing to give the town character. Yes Horsham lost the base, nothing you can do to change that. However the one thing you can do is keep some of that history alive by keeping the airport and runway active. Not only for the financial benefits but also the identity. You have an airport that can handle pretty much any aircraft around, why part with something like that. Sure you can use part of the land for whatever park, office, shopping area you want, sure it may take years to develop and most likely fail because nobody will be happy with what is put there. But at least keep the runway and other flight related buildings. Think of the opportunities that can happen sooner with the runway already there. Flight schools, training centers, FEMA, or god forbid a small airport like Atlantic City or even Allentown. Sorry for the rant but I had to get that out there. Imp sure there is a way everyone can have some of the cake.
Pete Krenshaw June 20, 2011 at 07:36 PM
I am totally in agreement with you Joe. Someone else mentioned the cost to develop the land at Willow Grove. What developer would be willing to take on the chore of cleaning up after the military, tearing out the runway and hangers? There is a huge expense to demolish this type of infrastructure. Why do you think the Warminster Community Park still has a large portion of the runway cutting through it's heart? And what would you put in place of the airfield? What stores would occupy a town center? With the Willow Grove mall just a few miles to the south and Valley Square just north, is there really going to be a demand for new commercial space? And don't get me started on residential development - especially not age-restricted. I really don't think we need another Anne's Choice or Villas of Five Ponds... Economically speaking, we would be taking a huge step backwards with anything like that. How about a stadium or velodrome? More of the same tract developments and commercial space is not what we need. We need something unique that could work in conjunction with an airport.
James Boyle June 20, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Joe, I'm curious what you mean by "They dropped the ball" on the park.
Joe June 20, 2011 at 09:13 PM
Jim, While I was at the park yesterday I couldn’t help but notice how "bunched" it felt. While the trails, pond and playground area are nice everything else just seems rushed and not well placed. The new basketball courts and safety town seem to be placed way to close to each other with no fencing (yet) to contain the activities. Are we going to have kids riding their big wheels and bikes through a basketball game to get to safety town? It just seems to me they are using that part of the runway as a focal point for EVERYTHING, why not space things out? I just feel they should have planned for future expansion a little better. just my two cents
James Boyle June 20, 2011 at 10:14 PM
I believe there are plans for a permanent fence once everything is complete. I think if things are too far spread apart, it will be tougher for parents with multiple kids to keep an eye on everybody. If I got one child that wants to play on the slide, and another that wants to do Safetytown, they are both close by so I can keep tabs.

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