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Horsham Fights Indoor Kart Racing Facility

The township council will note its opposition when the zoning hearing board considers the application on July 12.

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. 

Jeff Heller July 15, 2011 at 12:36 PM
I feel we should be creative at the Old Willow Grove Air Station. Why not develop a " Main Street" like the town of "State College, Pa". I know when I visit there it is hard to leave. Why can't we have one too. Oh, as to the rest of the space afforded us by the Navy leaving town... Why not a museum to remember and celebrate the military. Along with a Veterans hospital and re-development facility to treat and re- direct our home coming men and women. The old base offers us a chance to allow the needs of our community and the strength of the open market to create another view of Horsham. Ideas such as: College campus, veterans wellness center, main street shopping and dining, condos apartments on the second and third floors just above small retail and office space can add to the town of Horsham. A "main street" can offer a destination, instead of just a place to drive through to get somewhere else.
Robert July 15, 2011 at 01:33 PM
I agree with Jeff about having a diversified community. A nice town square can easily fit right along with a nice general aviation airport. Those in Horsham who feel secure need only look around the country. Do you believe that the big pharmas will stay right where there? Times and business models change. Simply look at Silicon Valley. That should be a wake up call for anyone who thinks that business is static. People who take the time to read and understand what is happening in our global economy will relate well to my comment. If you have not noticed, our U.S. government is broke and getting broker. I for one see a great need to control costs etc. That means less intervention for our troops. There are many in Horsham with all types of ideas. Some good, some not so good. What they do not understand is the method for developing the financial side of the equation. Some have suggested a new public hospital. Great. How much land do you think a new hospital will require? Thus far, we have not seen hospital managements breaking down the door to Horsham. Both our federal and state governments in this country are in serious financial condition. There is no quick fix for this issue. We have been slowly seeing our overall quality of life change in America. Some do not want to admit this fact, but it is true. Finding a happy balance for the land will provide for both the citizens and the business community for decades.
Nicholas July 15, 2011 at 04:07 PM
Mark, could you explain how allowing general aviation non-commercial flights will make Horsham a worse place to live? If you recall, Money magazine voted Horsham the 15th best place to live in 2007, while the base was still open. Most people that can afford private aircraft are well-off, and if they move to Horsham, they will increase the tax base. As for the possibility of commercial flights, shortening the runway to 7000' will prevent landing anything larger than a business jet, removing its ability to be used as a reliever airport Jeff, The reason that State College has such a nice business district is that there are 40,000 college students there that spend money, and 100,000 visitors every football weekend. If you want to see what a business district would look like, look at Hatboro. Empty storefronts are common, and most active businesses are struggling to get by. The major problem is the "big-box" mentality of most suburbanites: They would rather go to Walmart and get everything in one place than spend a little more time to shop at local stores (and I'm not an anti-Walmart person).
Mark July 15, 2011 at 05:21 PM
The question is not whether a Town Center would fit along side a runway, but rather who would choose to shop there if one was? When the development consultant hired by the HLRA proposed this concept in June’s meeting, most in attendance chuckled. Keeping the runway intact vs developing a “Main Street” attraction for Horsham are mutually exclusive ideas. Airport proponents are often heard saying that military jets are loud compared to corporate jets. Perhaps so, but what they’re leaving out is that the corporate jets will be flying slower, more often, and at all times of the day/night...all meaning that noise will be heard for longer period. How is that a win for the neighboring community? We all know the strategy and tactics being used. First, you sell the concept with all the best news – the planes will be quieter; only used by a select group of corporations; will only be used sparingly. Then, once the commitment to keeping the runway is secured and operating, new laws and policies will be lobbied for that will increase utilization, add loud cargo planes, and off-load commuter traffic from Philly IA. Nothing short of tearing up the runway can guarantee this can’t happen. The government gained ownership of the base in 1942 through a hostile takeover. After years of both sacrifice and loyalty by township residents to support the mission, the time has come for government to yield its future use to benefit the whole of the community and not the select elite.
Jeff Heller July 15, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Do not use Hatboro Borough as an example. Hatboro originated as a small town in the 1700's. The Borough grew with little thought to planning ahead for parking and traffic. Who knew? ... By the way... check-out the Boro. It is a great place to grow a business. Watch for the new Greek Restaurant and talk to the Chamber of Commerce about who is eying-up Big Marty's and the old Wachovia Bank. Nicholas, The idea behind today's Town Center is to have residents live "close-in" and "above" the commercial spaces. Part of the traffic to the stores and restaraunts would be generated by those able to walk down the street or down the steps to use them. I do imagine a place where we could have thousands of students, teachers, and support persons along with visiting parents to feed just such a town center. That along with a teaching hospital, veterans wellness center, hotels, small pocket parks, and new roads (and traffic patterns through this new space to even-out the flow around and through Horsham) are just a few of the ways we can re develop the base.

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