With Airport Rejected, Roads Through Base Approved
The Horsham Land Reuse Authority acted on 17 notices of interest submitted for various parcels of Willow Grove air base, including roadways that would be extended through the property.
Transportation is king for the Willow Grove air base redevelopment.
The HLRA gave the ok for further consideration to just under half of the 17 notices of interest for various entities looking to acquire land for free or at a dramatically reduced cost. For the most part, that means the HLRA’s consultant, RKG Associates, will incorporate those greenlighted applications into one of three potential redevelopment plans to be presented at the HLRA’s Aug. 17 meeting.
“Our approval or acceptance of an NOI provides direction,” HLRA Chairman W. William Whiteside said. “Approval tonight is also not a guarantee that the use will integrate well.”
The alternative to an airport, the extension of roads through the air base - in essence cutting through the existing runway - was one that received the board’s approval.
Horsham hopes to acquire ultimate right of way for a series of roads – Maple Avenue, Norristown Road, Precision Drive and Privet Road - bordering the air base. The plan, township manager Bill Walker said back in March, involves extending the roads through the 1,100-acre property to allow for better traffic flow.
"Our problem in town is not necessarily going east and west," Walker said prior to the township’s application being submitted. "The problem is going north and south. There’s no way through the base."
Horsham also received approval for its two other applications:
- Plans to increase its existing park land and open space from 814 acres to 942 acres (a request of an additional 128 acres of base property)
- The base’s 1.8-acre fire station, which would provide service to the new development and could potentially be leased to the county for hazmat equipment storage
The Bucks County Housing Group’s request for a 75-acre parcel used to construct 105 permanent assisted living residences for homeless individuals and families generated lots of questions and concerns prior to the HLRA’s approval.
Officials said the 105 units, as proposed, would meet 85 percent of the need for homeless housing in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Several residents seemed to take issue with that assertion.
“Why are we worried about another county’s identified needs?” A man asked.
Others worried that, since the base redevelopment could take decades to move to fruition, the need for homeless housing could increase, resulting in the 105-unit proposal growing to something much larger.
HLRA board member Donnamarie Davis said 105 would be the cap.
“The number will never be above 105,” Davis said. “It can be lower than 105.”
The Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association received greater assurance Wednesday that its Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum will remain in Horsham, even after the base is closed. The HLRA approved a joint application that DVHAA submitted with Montgomery County for a park and an expanded aviation museum.
HLRA consultants said the plan requires some fine-tuning, particularly since DVHAA applied for five separate base locations with varying land requests.
“We need to understand the concept of what’s being planned and how it fits into the overall plan,” said consultant Russell Archambault of RKG Associates.
Additional NOIs approved:
- A 60-acre parcel for Hatboro-Horsham School District to build a new school within the next 30 years. Superintendent Curtis Griffin, an HLRA board member, said the district is a “long way” from constructing a new facility. “We put in for the land for consideration to have a better understanding what the needs are with the redevelopment,” Griffin said. “We may withdraw the request based on development needs.”
- Horsham water and sewer authority requested eight easements and/or fee title for construction of future water/sewer mains throughout the base, as well as a water storage facility
NOIs denied for free/reduced fee land:
- YMCA of Philadelphia and Vicinity
- ACTS Retirement Communities, which proposed building 300-350 independent living units; 40-60 assisted living units and a 60-bed skilled nursing facility, was a use that the HLRA thought should be included in the redevelopment, just not as a public benefit conveyance
- ESI Equipment Inc., which proposed using base property for a training center for rescue personnel was rejected because the organization did not qualify for a public benefit conveyance and data submitted was incomplete.
- Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue was interested in using the base’s fire station to house regional operations that support public safety agencies. The HLRA said the group could be considered later, just not as a public benefit conveyance.
- ATG Learning Academy proposed moving its special needs school from Warminster to Horsham. The HLRA said that could be a possibility, but the land would not be granted for free or at a reduced cost.
- Play and Learn Inc., proposed using existing 6,000 to 12,000 square feet, or new three to five acres for a childcare facility. Since childcare is not an allowed use for a public benefit conveyance, the HLRA opted not to include this in its redevelopment plan.
America Responds With Love was interested in securing 20,000 square feet for donations; land for growing flowers; and land to build a 40-unit handicapped housing facility.
Philadelpia Stand Down proposed using a portion of base property to provide service to homeless veterans.