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Town Center Tops Base Redevelopment Options for Willow Grove Air Base

Consultants begin "making sense" of community preferences during second day of HLRA's planning sessions.

Regardless of whether an airport takes flight at , the overwhelming majority of the 500 plus participating community members want future development to take shape around a town center.

From that common theme, residents had differing opinions on if the pedestrian-friendly land planning concept should include housing, a 55 and up, or assisted living community, employment centers, entertainment facilities, expo centers or conference space. Most seemed to favor incorporating a university satellite campus, green building designs and some type of medical or hospital facility.

The rough sketch of ideas was presented Saturday morning following two three-hour community design charrettes held Friday at to gauge public input as to the preferred developments on 892 acres of Willow Grove air base. On Saturday morning, – the consultant hired by the Horsham Land Reuse Authority to guide the process – regrouped to review information from Friday’s sessions and arrive at common ideas.

Prior to Saturday’s informal presentation, which was attended by roughly a dozen community members, as opposed to the 500 plus who turned out Friday, the group drew sketches, jotted down planning options and pored over maps dotted with color-coded stickers reflecting the community’s preferences for open space, employment centers, residential developments and more.

Russell Archambault of RKG Associates said the group was tasked with “trying to make sense of what occurred yesterday.” 

While ideas were as vast as the hundreds who shared them – and inclusive of everything from a minor league baseball team, an amusement park like Six Flags,  “unique” retail, an indoor recreation center and a business center with corporate headquarters as an anchor – most seemed to agree that if an airport remains, housing on the remaining acreage would not be appropriate. One of the consultants added that inclusion of an aviation museum, as in the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association’s , was “repeated many times.” 

RKG Associates will present a more finalized power point presentation today from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Horsham community center following a roughly four-hour closed-door session. The land planning principles outlined this weekend will form the foundation for three redevelopment alternatives that the consultants will present to the HLRA in August.

From those, HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee said the board would likely vote in November on a final redevelopment plan which would then be forwarded to the Department of Defense for final approval.

“It doesn’t have to be one of their three,” McGee said. “It can be components of their three, or something else.”

But, before the development alternatives are put on the table, Archambault said his team would make recommendations to the HLRA in early July regarding the submitted in March. Public entities, including , applied to the HLRA for consideration of free land or at a dramatically reduced cost.

The HLRA can choose to include, some, all, or none of those options in the final redevelopment plan, McGee has said. Archambault said recommendations would be based on economic analysis, the criteria that applicants were required to follow, as well as market and impact analysis. 

Officials have estimated that the property likely would not be repurposed for about three years.

And before virtually any development can take place, the needs to step up its operations, according to business manager Tina Merl.

Merl, who attended Saturday morning’s meeting to get a better sense of potential impact on water and sewer operations, said wells currently serve Horsham's Air National Guard station, one of the few military remnants to remain. Merl said the authority has been in talks with the Air National Guard to be able to use “any well water over and above their needs.”

In terms of sewer capacity, Merl said the authority now handles 1 million gallons a day, but is looking to expand to 2.25 millions a day. Of that 1.25 million gallon increase, Merl estimated that half a million gallons would be earmarked for the base redevelopment.

She said the Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing the application now. If it is approved, Merl said it would be about two years before the expansion could be finalized.

“We think we’re close,” Merl said of DEP approval.

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