Brokers behind a plan to convert Horsham’s shuttered Walmart into an will need to fuel up to fight.
Voicing many of the same concerns expressed when the governing body reviewed the application last month, four of five Horsham Township Council members on Monday night opposed the application, in large part, because of its intended location, in the “run-down” Village Mall shopping center, amid several empty storefronts.
Council President Mark McCouch, who lives near the plaza, which is located on Blair Mill Road, said he talked to some of his neighbors about the proposal.
“Although people like the idea and would certainly go somewhere to do that, “ McCouch said, “the overwhelming majority of people didn’t think it was the best spot.”
The two local businessman behind the proposed Speed Raceway franchise - Travis Thompson, president of Ivyland-based Suburban Marble and Granite and Carl Asplundh of Willow Grove-based Asplundh Tree Experts – had hoped to receive either a neutral or favorable opinion from the governing body.
The applicant needs relief from the zoning hearing board for parking and for offering a use that is not permitted in the shopping district, township manager Bill Walker said.
As part of its opposition, Walker said the council would either send attorney Mary Eberle to the July 12 zoning hearing board meeting, or would have Eberle submit a letter.
For Thompson, Monday’s decision means the council is using “taxpayer funds to fight us.” To date, Thompson said he’s spent “significantly more than six figures” on the project. In all, renovations, equipment purchases and rent would cost $1.5 million, he said.
“We’re just a local community group of people that wanted to come in there,” Thompson, of Doylestown, said to the council. “(The landlord) had no interest, that’s why he negotiated with us.”
Part of the council’s early opposition stemmed from the shopping center’s owner, Hampa Realty, not following through with upgrades, as council members said the owner had promised to do before.
Walker said he received revised plans earlier this month outlining Hampa’s plans for façade improvements within the shopping center, as well as parking lot and stormwater improvements.
Originally, the council had asked for a commitment from the property owner before the governing body would consider giving Speed Raceway the green light.
Robert Brandt, an attorney for the applicant, said Hampa needs to use his clients’ hefty investment as “seed money” to make the other improvements.
“It’s almost a chicken and egg situation,” Brandt said. “We need to get going, that gives them seed money.”
Councilman Gregory Nesbitt – who asked the most questions, yet was the lone council member who did not formally oppose the application – said afterward that the proposed use was “better than no use.” If the plan moves forward, Speed Raceway would be housed in the 100,000-square-foot former Walmart store, a building that’s remained empty for about five years.
Nesbitt stressed that he was hoping for “necessary assurances” that Hampa will do what has been proposed in the land development plans.
“I don’t want to seem skeptical or cynical, but I’ve had other applicants come in front of me and say ‘we’re going to do this,’ ” Nesbitt said. “I want something at the end of the day called a condition … so I’m not left empty-handed.”
Other council members balked at a comparison to the remade Springhouse Village Shopping Center. The addition of an indoor kart racing facility, they said was “piecemeal” as opposed to a complete revitalization.
“With a site like this you have to start somewhere,” Asplundh said. “We are going to fight as hard as you are to improve the whole site.”
As far as how far he’s willing to take the fight, Thompson said he needs to take “one step at a time,” with the zoning hearing board meeting being the next step.