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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."

Pete Krenshaw June 13, 2011 at 06:23 AM
Say "YES" to the airport!
Eric S June 13, 2011 at 11:40 AM
Ok, no airport. How about a combo street car drag strip/go-kart track? Just kidding. I have no dog in this race and can understand the objections of the area residents. I might also object if it were my nieghborhood affected but I must admit, I like the idea of a private airport or small craft airport for non-commercial planes. But at this point I have to stand with the no airport crowd. They are the ones directly affected by the noise it creates.
Eric S June 13, 2011 at 11:42 AM
Ok, so you say yes and want the rest of us to do the same. Mind explaining why we would want to do that? I'm going to need more than a slogan to agree with you.
Suzy Q June 13, 2011 at 12:57 PM
The airport needs to stay. Once upon a time in our area, we had the Johnsville runways, Warrington field, Turner Field, and Montgomeryville airport. All are now gone. We need to keep ONE of them, for heaven sake! Talk to the folks that live by Northeast Philly airport......it's a NON ISSUE. And it should be a NON ISSUE for the folks in the Hatboro, Horsham, and Warrington area. NON ISSUE!!!
Carol Inman June 13, 2011 at 01:10 PM
Suzy Q: I've lived in NE Philly. The noise, the pollution, the lack of adequate contributions to the tax base are all very real issues that concerned many long-term as well as temporary NE-ers. Go walk along the perimeter of that airbase and tell me -- through this post or elsewhere -- if you would raise your children there. I suggest we all take a field trip to these avowed good-neighbor airbases and see for ourselves what the real story is.
Scott Johnson June 13, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Carol, I was reading about the NE Airport a few days ago, and was interested in a quote that talked about how they had to mothball a runway because of developments on either side of the particular runway on that airport. Did the community decide to develop in those areas to force the airport to close a particular runway? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Philadelphia_Airport "The airport's infrastructure was expanded in 1960 when Runway 6/24 was extended to its present length. Runway 10/28 was abandoned at this time due to construction on the western end of the runway." I've been looking at the real estate in that area and it seems to be extremely high density housing compared to Horsham, as well as being in Philadelphia. I haven't seen house prices drop significantly when looking at different houses price histories. The area actually looks pretty nice. But that airport has been there since the 1940's (and earlier in different forms) it's hard to make a comparison.
Carol Inman June 13, 2011 at 03:22 PM
My residency in NE Philly was brief, but the memory of the airport traffic, noise, etc. and neighborly discussions of such troubles were very much a part of the daily commune of living there. Certainly, NE Philly is more densely populated than H-H. In both communities, there are many beautiful homes, and many low and middle income homes. As you say, one would have to research through a considerable mount of material and engage professional realtors in order to project changes up or down and make valid comparisons. However, looking at what has happened in both NE Philly as well as in Atlantic City, where casinos and airports were both expanded, I would say as a person who loves livning in this community, that I would think carefully and pause again and again before implementing such expansions. Thanks for your thoughtful response.
Pete Krenshaw June 15, 2011 at 03:51 AM
I can say I live very close to the runway and hangers (within a mile) of the military base and have been hearing the turbo-prop engines for years. If the noise is the major concern, keep in mind with commercial/private aircraft, there are stricter regulations in place for noise that do not apply to military aircraft. So the noise will be less of an impact then it is currently as a military base. Next, a community airport typically draws commercial and industrial business to a region. Communities usually aspire to be able to build one and we already have the ground work for one established. Once it is gone, it isn't like you can simply wave a magic wand and build a new airport. There is simply no other space like this within the region and it would be extremely short-sighted to not even consider establishing a regional/community airport in place of the military airbase. I believe conducting the meetings and keeping an open-mind are critical in the reuse process
Pete Krenshaw June 15, 2011 at 03:53 AM
What I would like to see is a community based airport for private planes (no commercial flights). As I stated above, the noise would affect me eventhough I do not live within the boundaries of Horsham Township. This is just my two cents and everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Erik Wagner June 15, 2011 at 01:04 PM
People need to stop and look at the big picture. Removing the runway for any reason would be economic suicide for residents of Horsham. The runway, landing strip, airport, or what ever you would like to call it has the possibility of bettering the standard of living in Horsham and bring a NEW income stream to the township and the county. On paper the thought of this "town center" is very glamorous and a neat idea, but where are these businesses coming from? Who is paying for developing the land? Who is paying for removing the runway? Who is paying to ecological clean up? Have you driven down Dresher Rd Lately and looked at the Class A office space? It is by far 50% empty. The only was to successfully build office space in this era is to make it unique. Similar to Brunswick, ME and other locations allowing business quick and easy access would draw investment into the airport, township and county. In return bettering the lives of those in Horsham and surrounding area. Take a look and the wealth around Wings Field and Doylestown! Residents of Horsham, open your eyes and look at the big picture, past your 10x10 lot! As a resident of Horsham for my entire life I support the airport and the opportunity it will bring.
Carol Inman June 15, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Erik: I understand your viewpoint. I am, however, on this and other sites On patch & FB attempting to promote an ethic of civility in the highly emotional topics surrounding the reuse of the Base. I think that constructive discussions can be had without sarcasm, don't you? everyone who is affected by this issue, whether they live in the flight pathway, in Horsham, in Hatboro, Warrington, or elsewhere is, I assure you, looking at this issue from multiple angles. I have recently found a number of websites with a wealth of scientific data that suggest that airports of any type have very negative impacts on the health of surrounding citizens. Analysts have also pointed out that state laws regulating airport pollutants are inadequate to ensure the health & safety of citizens. I do not believe that this documentation has been carefully reviewed by the land-use authorities, Horsham Township, and the various stakeholders in the multifaceted issue of how to use Base land. So there's still plenty for all of us to discuss and consider. I'm certain no one would disagree with continuing a respectable discussion. I do hope you are enjoying this beautiful weather.
Mike Shortall Sr June 17, 2011 at 04:04 PM
I also lived within a mile of NE Philly Airport for about 30 years. The housing is extremely HIGH DENSITY. I was never a fan of the airport, although it was never really an intrusion most times. The difference is exactly the fact that NEPA was hemmed in by residential development, otherwise it would have DEFINITELY been expanded at some point. There is relatively little that would hold back an much more dramatic expansion at JRB WG. Anyone who claims that zoning and regional FAA restrictions will "protect" Horsham is just playing a bait 'n switch game. Those kind of restrictions could be modified or removed at any time, if the motivation for regional Authorities is strong enough. Just look at what Doylestown residents found out about the classification of their airport by the State's Bureau of Aviation when they were fighting expansion there!
Scott Johnson June 17, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Couldn't you do what they did and develop around the airport to prevent any large expansions just like they did?
Mike Shortall Sr June 18, 2011 at 01:41 AM
@ Scott: I think you miss the point that there would be little if any expansion needed for the current base and runway to accommodate much, much larger aircraft. At 8000 ft that runway can already handle all but the largest wide-bodied jets. Everything else could be accommodated with relatively little expansion.
Pete Krenshaw June 18, 2011 at 03:10 AM
Hatboro Mike - Sounds like we would be throwing away a very valuable resource if it wouldn't need expansion to accommodate large planes. This kind of facility is irreplaceable and keeping it as an active runway must be considered in my opinion.
Mike Shortall Sr June 19, 2011 at 11:45 PM
@Pete ... By all means consider that if you want. My concerns are much more personal and local. If this kind of facility was really all that irreplaceable, they probably would have kept the one at Johnsville. You have to admit the People of Warminster didn't want it there either!
Pete Krenshaw June 20, 2011 at 04:08 AM
I understand where you are coming from Mike. I think when Johnsville was decommissioned things were a little different since there was still Willow Grove so close by and active. Being that Willow Grove is the only one left I just want serious consideration given to the idea of keeping it an active airfield. I do live very close to it and would be impacted. And I do hear what you are saying. We will all have to wait and see what comes of these discussions and we will all have to live with whatever happens.
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 (Editor) 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 (Editor) 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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