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Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base

Consultants presented three concepts without an airport and two with an airport as part of the redevelopment process for Willow Grove air base.

Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base Community Views Five Preliminary Land Use Ideas for Air Base

During a sometimes contentious meeting which pitted Horsham residents against non-residents, about 150 community members gathered Saturday afternoon to see five conceptual drawings of what the Willow Grove air base could look like. 

The colorful renderings - three of which featured an airport-less 892-acre parcel - were the outgrowth of two three-hour  in which more than 500 people mapped out their preferred uses. A team of consultants hired to guide the redevelopment process convened Saturday at 8 a.m. for a where common themes were extracted. Then, from noon to 4 p.m. the group met behind closed doors to sketch out rough renderings of what 8 percent of Horsham Township could become. 

Mike McGee, executive director of the Horsham Land Reuse Authority - the board tasked with adopting a redevelopment plan - stressed that the drawings are just that. 

"They're not recommendations of the consultants," McGee said after the meeting, adding that the plans do not represent the three yet-to-be-finalized base redevelopment alternatives. "They're not vetted. They are absent any review of the NOIs."

The consultants' recommendation based on the , or notices of interest submitted by entities ranging from the YMCA, to , homeless service providers, and others, will happen in July, officials have said. Two of the most widely-discussed applicants are and the  Both have expressed interest in keeping the 8,000-foot-long runway open. 

The very mention of an airport drew the ire of some Horsham residents Saturday. Several people spoke in favor of keeping the air strip open, which drew applause from a few and shouts from residents inquiring where the speakers resided. 

One man, who identified himself as a Horsham resident, asked the consultants how they would assess who is and who is not part of the community.

"How are you going to discount their input?" he asked. 

Simply put, Russell Archambault of RKG Associates, said that's not what he was hired to do.

"We take every idea or opinion at face value," Archambault said. "This is a series of generalized opinions."

In four of the five drawings showcasing those opinions, a town center, featuring a mixed-use development, was a central theme.

Within the town center concept, which varied slightly from plan to plan, other uses - including diverse residential developments; affordable senior housing and retirement facilities; a myriad of entertainment centers in the vein of the Mann Center or Keswick Theatre; restaurants; unique retail; walkability with the inclusion of trails and connectors; high-paying jobs; and "green" building facilities - were woven throughout. 

In one of the two concepts depicting an airport, the town center was still present, along with commercial, office space, green innovation industry and institutional/medical facilities. As sketched, the plan calls for the runway to be shortened to 6,000 feet, which the consultants said could still accommodate corporate aircraft and allow other uses to coexist. 

"I have not spoken to anybody  at all that wants a town center next to an airport," a Horsham resident said to applause from most in attendance. 

Another man said the airport versus no airport notion should be put on a referendum. Horsham Township solicitor Mary Eberle, who also represents the HLRA, said a referendum is not permitted for reuse of a military property.

"That doesn't sound like democracy," the man responded. 

Archambault said if Montgomery County and the Bucks County Airport Authority "meet the technical requirements" they could be considered moving forward. 

"It's up to the board to make that call," Archambault said of the HLRA. "These are folks that represent your interests."

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