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HLRA Says 'No' to Airport

The Horsham Land Reuse Authority on Wednesday denied two applications for airport operations at Willow Grove air base.

Against the backdrop of about 400 cheering, clapping community members, the Horsham Land Reuse Authority, once and for all, grounded plans for any future use of the runway at .

The HLRA, during a three-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday night, voted down notices of interest—or applications—from , as well as the . Both entities, in their competing applications, had hoped to secure the lion’s share of 892 acres available for redevelopment at the closing military base. 

After the meeting, HLRA Chairman W. William Whiteside confirmed that an airport could no longer crop up as a possible redevelopment use.

“It’s out of the question,” Whiteside said, adding that the notices of interest approved for further consideration Wednesday—which include requests for , and land for to build a new school, would form the foundation for the base’s redevelopment plan. “It has to be developed based on the plan.”

Even though hundreds of acres could be potentially available if the half dozen entities requesting so-called public benefit conveyances for free or reduced land are incorporated into the final plan, Whiteside said that since an airport is not part of the redevelopment plan, an airport operator could not buy the land for this purpose.

HLRA board member Steven Nelson, Montgomery County commissioners’ director of policy, was the lone dissenter for each of the airport proposals. Before doing so, Nelson said he felt that the board was rushing to a decision and should spend more time deliberating.

“I have not seen enough information from the consultants that have responded to the concerns I’ve heard,” Nelson said, referring to public issues at the heart of the debate as they relate to noise, safety, property value and loss of tax revenue. “I’m concerned that we aren’t being responsible and responding to what we’ve heard from the public.”

Part of the reasoning behind the board’s denial of both airport applications stemmed from lacking information, particularly with regard to financials.

HLRA consultant Craig Seymour said the Bucks County Airport Authority proposal purported its operational levels on a “pre-recession forecast." He said the usage levels “appear to be optimistic given the current and projected market conditions.”

Horsham resident Peter Steiert said his wife’s done significant research on military installations that continued to operate as airports.

“They’ve all operated at a loss. Even the ones that have had the Navy make huge improvements in the base,” Steiert said. “They’re a money pit. They’re a tax drain.”

Seymour also noted that the Bucks County Airport Authority proposed using state and federal grants for upgrades and provided no specific information on capital improvements. Many in the audience guffawed at Seymour’s mention of a $5,000 per year payment in lieu of taxes that the authority had said they would pay to Horsham.

Whiteside pointed out that the military, in comparison, pays roughly $650,000 to Hatboro-Horsham School District in impact fees.

“I don’t see anything in this application that jumps out to make it a better economic advantage for the area than some other type of reuse plan,” Whiteside said.

David Pitcairn, who was chided by the crowd for living in Delaware County and not Horsham, said officials failed to note that Bucks County Airport Authority’s revenues to the school district would have increased after the first year.

“It concerns me,” Pitcairn said of the information that he claimed was omitted. “What else is being left out?”

Siobhra DeWar July 28, 2011 at 12:14 PM
It was rigged to go this way from the start. Of course the local township is going to go with the local NIMBY's. They don't care what happens to the region only themselves. Selfish spoiled brats.
Craig Peters July 28, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Kudos to the HLRA. The region did not need yet another airport, and Horsham did not need to embrace an idea that would ultimately have meant higher costs to taxpayers and a lower quality of life for residents. A shame, though, that the idea of keeping the physical runway intact for possible future use (as a military base, not a commercial airport) and installing a solar power farm won't be coming to fruition. Finally, kudos to Theresa Katalinas for her excellent work in reporting on this issue specifically and on the HH Patch site generally.
J.R. sr July 28, 2011 at 01:09 PM
I hope, now that a historical piece of Horsham is being destoyed, because of "the dangers to the health of local residents", that the increased traffic through the area won't be too much of a problem.
Mark July 28, 2011 at 01:19 PM
What a great day this is for Horsham! Though the challenges ahead will be many and difficult, I sincerely believe this is the best course for the community. That being said, I wanted to propose that the Board recommend to future land developers that a road, perhaps one running N-to-S that parallels or overlays the runway, be named Pitcairn Place, in honor of the local businessman who founded the field. Still other roads could be named after famous aviators who visited the field, like Amelia Avenue, or Earhart Way. Finally, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. McGee several times and have seen him in action countless times over, so I know he is a humble and respectful man. Without his steadfastness, selflessness, and drive to provide unparalleled leadership for the good of the community, both as Township Manager and HLRA Director, that parcel could easily have been taken over by outside interest groups to the detriment of Horsham. For that reason, I propose that a road also be named “McGee Drive.”
Jessica July 28, 2011 at 03:18 PM
This is the worst new i has ever heard the traffic is only going to get worse
Siobhra DeWar July 28, 2011 at 03:36 PM
With the radar still in place the air traffic will only grow also.
jtripper July 28, 2011 at 06:03 PM
How is traffic going to get worse? Yes, there may be some new housing but there will be new roads built and other roads extended through the property. If anything, it will give residents other roads to take rather than using the same ones to get around the area.
Pete Krenshaw July 28, 2011 at 08:45 PM
With new development will come new, additional traffic on roads such as Rt 611, Horsham Road, and Countyline Road. You can be sure people will want to get to the Turnpike, 202 and 309. Sure, the new connections will help circulation but the main arteries will definitely be impacted. Makes one wish Warrington didn't chase away Teva's $9M in traffic improvements...oh wait, their construction wouldn't have impacted the region, just as an airport would only impact Horsham - right? That is why the NIMBYs always win at the expense of everyone else.
Siobhra DeWar July 28, 2011 at 11:51 PM
It is doubtful that there will be much new housing there. It is a super fund site that the Navy will only clean up to industrial level. That means no residential homes. What will go there will be stores (killing Hatboro and other small towns) or offices. They are all going to letting out at the same time. If you think 611 is busy now wait until they have to deal with all those offices. That's if anyone rents them. In good times there are a lot of empty office buildings in the area as well as empty stores. Hay maybe we can get Teva to relocate to the base? The township had better ask the NIMBY's first. They run the show and will most likely only allow a quiet park. (that taxpayers will have to maintain.)
Mark July 29, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Siobhra, you might think that calling the NoAirport supporters NIMBYs is derogatory...but it’s not. My observations strongly suggest that most people, whether for or against a commercial airport, are NIMBYs. Most who oppose don’t want it in their backyard, and most who favor the runway do so because it wouldn’t be in their backyard. I’ll bet you wouldn’t favor any proposal to level the Willow Grove Mall [across the street from you] and locate a small commuter airport there. It’s also interesting to see the number of pro-airport folk who are now posting [unfounded] concerns about increased traffic to come. To them I say, you all knew a military airport was present before you moved into the area...knowing full well it was subject to being closed some day and taken over by suburban sprawl. So, whose fault is that? Of course I’m being sarcastic here to make a point, but that’s the logic often used against the opposition.
Pete Krenshaw July 29, 2011 at 02:43 PM
Mark, I may not live IN Horsham but I live closer to the runway then a majority of those in Horsham. It is my backyard...literally. I would hear the drone of the turbo-props in the early morning hours and the roar of the plans when they would take off. Yet my voice definitely was not heard because I am on the other side of County Line Road. This issue is, without a doubt, a regional issue yet those in the region had little input beyond the farce of a charette. I might not be a NIMBY and I may have an unpopular opinion but it should carry equal weight.
Mark July 29, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Pete, I was present at every community meeting on this issue, and not once did I ever hear an HLRA Board member, or RKG consultant, or charette facilitator ask a resident in attendance where they lived. Though Horsham residents were rightfully disturbed by this, it appeared to have no bearing on the rationale used to approve or reject a given N.O.I. Furthermore, I respectfully have to disagree with your perceived right on this issue as a resident living so close to the base, yet technically in a different county. While it’s true that you stand to share most pros and cons of either decision, you definitely would not share the full financial burden as it affects our taxes. I recognize it’s a point based on a technicality, but a Buck’s County resident should not be given equal voice as to what should be done in Montgomery County, just the same as I can’t tell my next door neighbor what color I think they should paint their house. Like it or not, the very purpose of boundaries is to grant and protect individualism and freedoms.
Mike Shortall Sr July 29, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Give it a rest, Siobhra. But you have a point, we really don't care much about what people who don't live here or pay taxes here wanted. Just as those same people wouldn't want their taxes going to help Horsham shoulder the burden of whatever redevelopment plan goes forward. The People of Horsham had every right to look out for their own interests. If they were proposing an airport across the street from where you live, wherever that is, you'd probably not give a second though to the "benefits" of the region. Get over it already.
BrianT August 05, 2011 at 03:49 PM
Please Mark, I think all the new roads should be named after the soldiers from PA who have given their lives for this great country. I think Mr. McGee would agree,being so humble.
Gregory Marston December 02, 2011 at 05:58 AM
This short-sighted decision will haunt Horsham in the future. Loss of 5000 jobs. Replaced by a sewage plant, low income housing and lots of empty space that will follow the template of 15 years ago at Warminister NAS. If the runway was kept opened thousands of jobs would have flowed back into the base area, including the possibility of new military aircraft. 99.9% of the towns in this country would love to have the high tech jobs that now will go elsewhere.
Mike Shortall Sr December 03, 2011 at 07:11 AM
Wait ... Did I miss the planning for a sewage plant and low income housing?!? Where were they ever discussed?? You are poorly misinformed. The only sewage plant ever there will be the one the military had on the base since it opened. There are no plans for low income housing. And since the DOD had already decided that WIllow Grove was excess facility, where would all these new military aircraft coming from???
Bill February 11, 2012 at 02:06 PM
The corruption that is taking place inside the HLRA is so over abundant that I hope that the federal government comes in and does a thorough audit of each of the peole on that board.
Mike Shortall Sr February 11, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Ya know, Bill, all you have to do is call the FBI or write your Congressman with your evidence - or even just your suspicions - to get the ball rolling there. What does posting non-specific accusations with absolutely no information, detail or examples to an on-line media accomplish??? It just sounds like whining unless you actually do something about it, which by the way, is your "civic duty" if you have information about illegal behavior. Can't wait to see your follow-up!
Bill February 11, 2012 at 05:02 PM
This is for hatboro mike. A good journalist doesn't release all of his information at once. Things will get leaked out a little bit at a time. I nor my source are going to call anyone out on the carpet since catching these certain people with the whole cookie jar will be better than finding them with just one cookie.
Mike Shortall Sr February 12, 2012 at 03:06 AM
uh huh ... Well, I'll be keeping my eye out for all these revelations. Seems kinda odd that so much "corruption" might be involved given that NOTHING - including ownership of the property - has even been decided yet. No contracts let - aside from the consultant, no developers involved, not even the unions have gotten their snouts into the trough yet. Weird ... and now you've gotten my anticipation building!

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