HLRA shoots down airport proposals

HLRA shoots down airport proposals

At a meeting attended by hundreds of members of the public Wednesday, the Horsham Land Reuse Authority for the Willow Grove Naval Air Station shot down separate proposals submitted by Montgomery County and also the Bucks County Aviation Authority to help keep the base’s runway open.

The HLRA is charged with acquiring possible uses for 892 acres of land at NAS-JRB designated as surplus property under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act.

On Wednesday, its board regarded as 17 Notice of Interest proposals, which includes those for an airport, from entities seeking to utilize a portion with the property. When the board subsequent meets on Aug. 17, the authority’s consultant, RKG Associates Inc., will present 3 alternatives which will eventually lead as much as a final program for use of the land.

Craig Seymour, managing principal for RKG Associates, told the board that Montgomery County’s request for 540 acres for future use as an airport was “substantially incomplete.” A PowerPoint presentation summarizing the county’s application indicated that financial and operational data had not been provided.

A motion by board member William Donnelly for the consultant to exclude the county’s NOI for further consideration drew applause from the audience.

Having said that, board member Steve Nelson stated he wanted details from the consultant to address the validity of community members’ concerns about the noise, well being and safety effects of an airport.

“I feel we require to hear what the responses are,” he added.

But Russell Archambault, vice president and principal for RKG Associates, responded that the problems mentioned by Nelson had been not within the scope of the services that his corporation had contracted to present.

Peter Steiert, a township resident, suggested that the reason the county had not submitted financial or operational data to support its request was since airports on other former bases operated at a loss.

“It’s a cash pit,” he stated.

Donnelly’s motion not to give the county’s NOI further consideration passed 8-1, with Nelson casting the dissenting vote.

As for the Bucks County Aviation Authority’s NOI, Seymour mentioned the request was for 682 acres for a general and corporate airport and small business park. He added that, although the application was substantially total, its financial viability was unproven.

Seymour stated the analysis the authority submitted assumed that federal and state grants would pay for all capital improvements, but the mechanism for that to happen was not identified. He added that operational levels for the airport proposal had been optimistic in that they were according to pre-recession forecasts. Seymour also said that the authority’s NOI would also conflict with other proposals.

Board Vice Chairwoman Joanna Furia created a motion for the authority’s NOI not to be given further consideration.

Nelson commented that the choice the board was about to make was “critically important” to the township’s future.

“I would ask the board to deliberate thoroughly,” he said. An airport was a valid type of regional development, Nelson stated.

“This could not be further from a hasty choice,” responded Furia, who pointed out that some board members had been serving because as far back as 2005. It was “absurd” to suggest otherwise, she stated.

“This has been years in the generating,” Furia stated. “It’s time to make some decisions.”

“We’ve had a number of years of community input,” said state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, sitting among the audience members. “This has been a quite thorough and deliberative process.”

He added, “We’re ready to move this ball forward.”

Nelson responded that his comments related towards the fact that the consultant had not addressed the health, safety and noise concerns raised by residents.

“I believe we are rushing into this decision,” he added.

Nelson was alone in voting against Furia’s motion not to further take into consideration the airport authority’s NOI.

It was roughly 90 minutes into the meeting before the board lastly turned to the remaining NOIs, which were acted on as follows:

A motion to give further consideration to a request by Horsham Township to utilize 128 acres for parkland and open space, with the acreage and location to be determined at a future time, failed by a 7-2 vote, with only Donnelly and Nelson in support. Nonetheless, a motion for consideration with the township’s proposal, using the former web page with the Horsham Elementary School to be included, passed by an 8-0-1 vote, with Donnelly abstaining.

By a 9-0 vote, the board approved further consideration of a township request for the base fire station building, together with 1.8 acres, to be applied as an emergency service and fire/rescue service facility. The board similarly gave unanimous assent to Horsham’s NOI for reservation of property in and about the base for new roads.

The board also voted 9-0 that the consultant further study the Hatboro-Horsham School District’s NOI for 60 acres of undeveloped land for educational, administrative and recreational uses.

A request by the Horsham Sewer and Water Authority for easements or land title for construction of water and sewer mains plus a water storage facility also garnered a unanimous board vote in support.

The board voted 9-0 in favor of taking into consideration Delaware Valley Historical Aviation Association’s request, by way of the county, for no less than 14 acres for its “Wings of Freedom” museum.

However, the board members voted unanimously to turn down a request by the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity for use of the Marine Reserve building, with 40 acres, for a day care and summer camp. Seymour said the application was substantially incomplete.

On an NOI by ACTS Retirement Life Communities for 60 to 80 acres for 300 to 350 independent living units, 40 to 60 assisted living units plus a 60-bed skilled nursing facility, the board voted that the utilizes had been appropriate for further consideration, but not to include the specific application in further planning scenarios.

The board turned down a request by ESI Equipment Inc. for use of a fire station and hazardous materials storage developing for a training and research facility. Seymour characterized the application as incomplete, in that it lacked detailed monetary data, and he added that it conflicted with other NOIs.

A request by Greater Philadelphia Search & Rescue for use with the fire station to house an operation to support regional public safety agencies was seen by the board as an appropriate use, but the application itself will not be included in future planning scenarios. Seymour mentioned the NOI was not total mainly because it lacked monetary data, and it also conflicted with other proposals.

Likewise, the board supported ATG Learning Academy’s NOI for use of a base personnel office for a special needs school serving 13 school districts as an appropriate use, but voted not to include the specific application for further consideration. The same fate met a request by Play & Learn Inc. for building space or land for an early educational facility.

The board turned down a request by America Responds with Love, which sought storage space for donations for the homeless and needy, and land for flower gardens and for 40 homes for disabled veterans.

An NOI from Philadelphia Stand Down, which provides homeless veteran services, for several properties for use for storage, transient housing plus a detoxification center, was also turned down by the board.

Lastly, the board voted 9-0 to give the go-ahead to a request by the Bucks County Housing Group for 75 acres to build 105 residential units for qualified homeless individuals and families.

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