A look at the NAS-JRB Willow Grove EIS

(Dear Readers: This is a rather long-winded look at the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) recently completed by the U.S. Navy on the BRAC-closed NAS-JRB Willow Grove base in Horsham, PA.  I will not be offended if only the most local and interested Internet Wanderers have the strength and conviction to read it. – Mike)

nas-jrb-signOn January 13-14 the U.S Navy’s, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), BRAC Program Management Office presented for public review, questions and comments it’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) related to the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority’s (HLRA) redevelopment plan for NAS-JRB Willow Grove.

The turnout for the two-day event was light, as one would expect for such dry subject matter devoid of emotion-provoking arguments like those preceding the decision not to accommodate an airport at the base.  But the 80-plus who did take the opportunity was a nice improvement over a public comment last year.

I picked Monday evening, January 13, to visit and submit those questions and comments I had regarding the evaluation the Navy was required to perform on the feasibility of the HLRA plan and the environmental impacts that could be reasonably projected from the plan.

EIS evaluations are not limited to impacts of redevelopment on the physical ecosystem.  An EIS also looks at scope and costs of each Alternative Plan as well as each plan’s effects on Population; Housing; local Economy including Tax Revenue and Employment; School Enrollment; Transportation; Air Quality; Infrastructure and Utilities; Water Resources and Biologicals (wildlife).

Several basic issues should be kept in mind when reviewing the EIS.  The EIS is mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law, that sets the framework for transferring excess Government facilities and property to regional entities for reuse by the public.  The EIS process requires that the evaluation address the broadest possible spread of Alternatives for redevelopment.

images-1This is why one alternative (Alternative 3) addresses the use of the closed base as an airport.

This is not an indication, as I overheard one interested citizen conclude, that the federal government still prefers to turn the property into an airport!  It’s simply the surprisingly efficient way the BRAC law requires all possible alternatives receive a thorough analysis in a single comprehensive treatment.  This eliminates the possibility of another lengthy and costly EIS evaluation should the preferred plan require any changes, including increases or decreases in development density.

One shot, and it’s all treated equally, thoroughly, and cost-efficiently!

Now that being said, I will readily admit that until they start tearing that runway apart into miniscule pieces of industrial gravel or they build enough stuff on and around the runway to make any potential airport a foregone not-gonna-happen conclusion, I will consider that very remote possibility of an airport a possibility nonetheless.

By way of full disclosure, I work for Big G Government as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy.  I never had an issue – obviously – living within 1/4 mile of the airbase.  But a private/commercial airport is another animal altogether.  No thanks!

8dec19716dc5766c1a96425a9084d90bIf nothing else, besides its penchant for elaborate acronyms, the Navy’s EIS is extremely thorough in the depth and breadth of its environmental assessments.  The EIS report runs over 450 pages long, not including the Appendix (770 pages) provided as a separate document on the BRAC PMO website.

The EIS begins with a well-written Executive Summary (ExecSum), which at just 26 pages, is as far as I got in my initial reading.  My eyes tend to glaze over when confronted with an overabundance of detailed analysis, so I was content with reading the Summary knowing I could delve deeper into the minutiae if I wished on any specific area of interest.

Believe me, there was plenty of data to chew just on those livable 26 pages of summary presentation!

So that this post does not become overwhelming, I will concentrate on the comparative tables contained in the ExecSum.  These tables are most useful in presenting the collective data in an easy-to-digest comparison between the four Alternatives addressed.

Of course, I will be addressing only those features of the EIS I find most interesting.  My interests (density, economic impact, taxes) reflect those features I believe are most important to the long-term health of Horsham Township.  Other challenges like traffic, water usage, hazardous material cleanup, etc. are also important within the larger context of economic feasibility.

The four Alternatives evaluated are as follows:

  • Alternative 1:  HLRA-approved/preferred plan consisting of 1486 Residential Units (RU), 2.3 million sq. ft. of industrial/retail space (non-residential); 240 acres of Open Space.

    final preferred plan_8.5x11_630x487

    HLRA-preferred redevelopment plan

  • Alternative 2:  An even denser concentration of residential usage 1999 RU, 2.1 million sq. ft non-residential, 317 acres open space
  • Alternative 3:  The dreaded airport option … Take a deep breath and remember my discussion as to why this is included.  Allows for 70 RU, 1.5 million sq. ft. non-residential, 299 acres open space
  • Alternative 4:  Doing nothing at all to the property.  Obviously no development parameters, so there really is no treatment of Alternative 4′s impact.  But the most obvious to keep in mind here are no tax revenue; but still the costs of site security, wildlife control, vegetation control, etc. remain and there would be no cut-through roads.  One would assume this is no alternative at all, aside from serving as a baseline for the EIS comparisons.

Now my own personal opinion is that both Alternatives 1 & 2 contain higher density numbers than I would prefer to see.  I have in the past shared my own whimsical ideas for the base property, and others have suggested their own to me.  But that’s for another post at another time.

Here I will limit myself to comments on the EIS comparisons.  The following Public Meeting Fact Sheet, made available at all the public EIS presentations, is most helpful when comparing the three primary Alternatives.  It provides the potential impacts of all three alternatives in table format, making it easy to distinguish key elements.

Willow Grove Comparison of Alternatives

In addressing the HLRA-preferred Alternative 1, there is much to like … over 10,000 additional jobs, over $15 million in additional tax revenue, and 240 acres of new open space. But there are also concerns … an increase in population of 3500, another 570 children attending district schools along with increases in traffic, resource use, and demands on infrastructure and utilities.

banner_NAS-JRB-Willow-Grove

I am skeptical of the estimated construction expenditures (one of my comments to the Navy on the EIS).  These costs are estimated at $928 million to build out the entire Alternate 1 development plan.  As someone unfamiliar with the real-life costing of major development projects, the figure seems too low to me.  I find it difficult to believe the full build-out of this magnitude could be completed at level of investment.

That’s a problem for Developers however, not so much for Government or for Taxpayers.  Assuming there is no public financing options provided to whomever qualifies to execute any build-out (other than tax incentives), the problem is one of developer financing and return-on-investment.

Alternative 2 with over 500 more residential units adds only an estimated $1.3 million in tax revenue because, although there are more residents, there are also fewer jobs (roughly 450-500 fewer).  Not being a fan of Alternative 1′s level of residential density, it’s no surprise that I am not all that excited about Alternative 2′s even higher density level.

museumlogo2Alternative 3 – of course – is a non-starter for me.  However, the airport alternative would cost $274 million for build-out; includes 70 housing units for homeless veterans only. (This is included in all the alternatives.); 1.5 million square feet of non-residential space; but also generates only $4.2 million in annual tax revenue, most of which is coincidental to an airport operation.  This revenue would come primarily from the planned hotel conference center and other non-residential development.

The airport alternative still provides for 7500 jobs in the business park and hotel conference complex.  Few jobs – one would surmise – would be directly related to airport operations, since airport proponents continuously tell us that this will be only a small private, limited commercial operation.

I do not buy that line of thinking.  In my view, the only way an airport makes sense – both in self-sufficiency and local economic impact – is if much heavier commercial use exists there, be it commuter air services or freight operations.  The pro-airport crowd will tell you otherwise however.

The last alternative – Alternative 4 – involves doing nothing, so there’s not much to address there.  One piece of data from the HLRA consultant group is that it would cost the Township $20 million to take the property to pasture conditions (basically just grass and trees).  This includes tearing up the runway and leveling the remaining buildings.

Obviously, not much of an option.

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As anyone who pays attention to this process and the seemingly endless evaluation, recognizes that this process through the full build-out – in whatever form it takes in the end – will be a long tortuous road requiring a vision and insight into a future a lot of us might be too old to appreciate … me included.

None of the Alternatives nor their preferential rank means a twit without the development money and a perceived return-on-investment to the entity taking all the risk.  To speak of town centers, golf courses, retail space or whatever at this juncture is simply a way of putting a very abstract vision into a form that can be valued and analyzed.

What the EIS helps to illustrate – in an indirect way – is the complexity of the picture, the range of permutations possible, and if one listens closely, the importance of taking our time in carefully putting the puzzle together.  This leads me to laugh at stories on local media sites where people complain about a lack of progress in the base’s abandoned state.  Articles bemoaning a lack of progress in activity on redevelopment forgetting rather conveniently that Governor Rendell caused a few years worth of  delay by pursuing a well-intentioned solution to keep the runway as a regional asset if a solution could be found to make it economically self-supporting.

When it comes time to stick shovels into earth, those with the deep financial pockets will certainly want a say in what is developed on the NAS-JRB property with their money.  Any interested developer will – no doubt – have a significant say in that decision-making process.

A healthy vision – represented by the preferred HLRA alternative – serves as a starting point from which those inevitable revisions can be properly evaluated.  Regardless of what the final product looks like, such a structured approach is intended to ensure the best possible decisions are made for the future of Horsham Township and the surrounding community.

The long road already in the rearview mirror is unfortunately only the beginning of a very long journey.
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An Easy choice for Horsham’s Future!

Horsham Library CNN/Money Magazine

Horsham Library
CNN/Money Magazine

There are two observations relating to politics in which I strongly believe.

  1. “All politics are local.”  - Tip O’Neill, Former Speaker of the House
  2. A candidate without ideas is the first one to go negative.

On November 5th the residents of Horsham, PA and the Hatboro-Horsham School District face a crucial election for several local offices.

Local elections have a greater direct effect on you, the Taxpayer; the community in which you live; and the schools your children attend.  In addition, the decisions we make on November 5th will impact the prospects for Horsham’s future in terms of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove airbase.  How that process plays out in the next decade will be reflected in the taxes we will pay and in the value of our homes and property.

No other election will affect your quality-of-life more directly than local government offices that control spending, property (schools) and township taxes, not to mention the potential for your township’s Economic Future.

When it comes to local elections, History is an effective barometer of Future Success.  In Horsham’s case, Success is not a theory or a couple of good terms in office.  It’s a history built over DECADES of Growth, Vision, and the kind of efficient management and intuitive policy that built a community lauded as one of the Best Places to Live (Horsham #34, CNN/Money Magazine 2013).

Unknown-2Growth, managed properly and carefully, allows for township taxes that have not been raised in over a decade.  Efficiency is what ensures your streets and neighborhoods are kept safe; operating smoothly; and cleared of snow in the winter.  Vision is taking the forward-looking action to establish a Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) that preserved for Horsham residents control over the key decisions surrounding the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) closure of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove airbase.

No single action did more to preserve the Quality-of-Life in Horsham than the establishment of the HLRA.  Few people appreciate the fact that any local or regional entity (Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, etc.) could have filed for official status as the LRA for the Horsham base.  If just one of them had been as quick to act as Horsham Township‘s Council, you can bet there would already be an airport operating at the airbase.

W. William Whiteside and Deborah Tustin were part of the team that took the initiative to preserve for Horsham residents the decisions that will shape Horsham’s future, as will be reflected in those 862 acres sitting so prominently on Rt. 611!  Newcomer Tom Johnson, a mainstay in Horsham commercial and industrial development, has the experience and the Horsham-grown philosophy to maintain this consistently successful approach to our future.

And what of their Democrat challengers?  What is it they have to offer?  Apparently not much more than misrepresentations of fact and plenty of negativity.

images-3They say they can make Horsham even better.  But how could they improve a community already ranked so prominently as one of The Best Places to Live?  Ask yourself the practical question … How much they can actually improve today’s Horsham?

Then recall all those negative mailings they sent to your home … over and over again … day after day in the last few weeks.

How much better do you think the Democrat challengers will make Horsham now?!?

The only new ideas I was able to identify from their mailings were confrontation and obfuscation.  For a group that speaks so much of making Township Government more “open”, they have a funny way of misrepresenting the truth and trying to fool Horsham voters.

Fact is, Horsham Township government is the most open governing process I have ever witnessed.  You can find on-line public notices of all township and school board meetings.  At the HLRA website you can find agendas, minutes, and even sign up for e-mail notifications of future meetings.

I remember - as part of the HLRA redevelopment plan process – hundreds of local and regional citizens learning about and watching the evaluation and decision-making process.

images-1I attended as many of these meeting as I could.  I sat with hundreds of people and participated directly in an open-to-the-public charrette process for brainstorming ideas and layouts for a theoretical, redeveloped NAS-JRB property.  I was there the night that hundreds of attendees gave a rousing ovation for the decision to reject a Bucks County Airport Authority proposal to operate an airport at the base.

In my opinion, the Horsham Democrats’ most egregious behavior is the deliberate and repeated misrepresentation of the purpose and meaning of the HLRA’s painstakingly created Redevelopment Plan.

The plan is intended to accomplish nothing more than to prove that Horsham Township has the means and capability for properly managing the redevelopment effort.  It forms the basis for the U.S. Navy to conduct its Environmental Impact Statement and for developing an anticipated cost structure for its eventual execution that can be evaluated for its economic feasibility.

Like all carefully laid plans, the specific details of the redevelopment plan are tenuous projections of what can be accommodated on the airbase property.  But the fact is, none of it means anything without developers and their financing to make the plan a reality.  In that regard, the HLRA could say it plans to build the Taj Mahal on the airbase site.  But without developers with the money and interest to make any specific plan a reality, it’s all pie-in-the-sky.

To speak about golf courses, bowling alleys, and hockey rinks is simply being deliberately dishonest for the sole purpose of political advantage.

But of course this is the BEST idea the Democrats could come up with in their efforts to get Horsham voters to look their way.  Attack and obfuscate …

You can tell a lot about the Democrats’ plans for Horsham by carefully dissecting the messages they keep sending you in those ugly mailers.  And if you caught their cable commercial, it tells you even more.

imagesThere is a plan here apparently.  It’s the Get Scott Freda Elected to Something plan!

Remember all those negative mailings you been receiving??  Just check the small print that lists the “Paid for by …” election requirement on all those negative mailers.

Scott Freda‘s “plan” for Horsham is laid out for you right there!!

His cable commercial?  If you see it, you will be hard-pressed to find his running mates in that commercial, except as props.  There is no mention of them by name, only Mr. Freda’s name is prominent.

Then ask yourself The Big Question.

Where is all this money for negative mailers and cable TV commercials coming from?

Did you know that the leadership of the Horsham Democrat Committee has a strong connection to Philadelphia political organizations?  That’s why every year at polling places throughout Horsham, you will find the Democrats’ Election Day ground game manned by representatives of these Philadelphia organizations!

Not Horsham residents … Outsiders with their own self-serving interests!

It’s an interesting combination, quite frankly.  Certainly these Philadelphia organizations would just LOVE to get a friendly foot in the door of the airbase redevelopment effort and all that development money.

But who wants Philadelphia politics in Horsham?

So ask yourself, are the goals of Philadelphia political bosses and their organizations consistent with Horsham Township’s best interests?

Hopefully, Horsham Township voters are smart enough to know the difference between ugly divisive Outsider Politics and effective locally controlled government!

Don’t forget to vote Republican for Horsham on November 5!

Airport paranoia … THE destroyer

Cranky Man likes to keep an eye on the maneuvering surrounding the City of Philadelphia’s efforts to expand the Philadelphia International Airport.  Why?  Because I’m a suspicious, semi-paranoid type who’s convinced a nefarious plot will surface to bring back the issue of an airport at the recently abandoned Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove. 

The Kinks would claim “Paranoia, the Destroyer”.  But it does keep you on your toes!

And so it was with my Paranoia Radar in full operational mode that I read not one … but two articles in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on UPS, U.S. Airways and the Philadelphia International Airport expansion kerfuffle.

The first article was found in The Inqy’s Business Section, and was quite informative on the size, complexity, depth and breadth of the UPS operation at PHL.  UPS employs 3100 people at PHL, housed on 212 acres and in a 681,000 square-foot processing center.  The center also includes a 50-acre airplane ramp. 

The hub processes approximately 70,000 parcels a day, which can rise to 95,000 per day during the Christmas season.  Eighty to 100 tractor trailers a day move parcels to ground hubs within a 150-mile radius, including its ground delivery hub on Blair Mill Road in Horsham.  There were no specific figures provided for flights-per-day; but in 2007 available information showed 20 flights every 24 hours.  I would expect more flights now 4-5 years later than that 2007 data.  Due to airway congestion and the UPS sorting process schedule, these flights arrive primarily at night.

UPS recently bought Dutch package and freight service TNT Express for $6.7 billion!     

The second article described the confab held Monday, March 26 between the City of Philadelphia in the person of Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Airways in the person of Chief Executive Doug Barker over the future of the airlines operations at PHL and the planned expansion of the airport.  The expansion calls for the construction of a new runway that – among other things – would REQUIRE that UPS accept a move from their current location to a less desirable site – according to UPS - in Tinicum.

The cost of this project is a big concern to both the City and to U.S. Airways.  The City estimates the project’s cost to be $6.4 BILLION over a 13-year period!  But members of airlines industry suggest the costs will run closer to $10.5 BILLION!  That’s a pretty big gap.

The City, prior to yesterday’s meeting with U.S. Air, planned to pay for the project in part by charging the airlines fees based on activity.  Needless to say the airlines aren’t particularly thrilled with the prospect, especially when they insist a new runway will not solve the problem it’s intended to address … more timely flights and lessened airspace congestion.  The airlines insist that overcrowding and more efficient airport operations would be resolved by working to re-route or re-organize the airspace between Boston and Washington D.C.

Why is this important to watch?  Paranoia runs deep!

U.S. Airways has suggested that it might shift air operations away from PHL if it could not agree to a new 15-year lease with The City and those prohibitive charges for the new runway.  If a “use fee” is charged by The City to pay for the runway, U.S. Air can avoid those charges by simply reducing the number of flights out of Philadelphia or – in a more drastic scenario – move its Philadelphia hub operations somewhere else.

This is the same approach UPS may take when it comes to moving its facility from the east side of the airport to the west side, bordering on Tinicum.  UPS does not like the proposed Tinicum site since it affords no buffer area from surrounding homes; the plan to appropriate 72 homes via forced sales under provisions of eminent domain puts UPS in the position of being “the bad neighbor”; and the fact that the proposed site provides no additional space for expansion of the PHL UPS hub if necessary. 

UPS has said if forced to move from its current site, it will entertain “all other options”, including the potential of moving its Philadelphia hub out of The City.

And there sits that 8000-foot runway … with 890 acres of land … 1/2 mile from my front door …

And now the Horsham Land Reuse Authority plan will soon be in Washington … in the hands of the Navy … with all those politicians standing around … looking for their next Sugar Daddy donation …

We all knew it would take YEARS for this redevelopment effort to bear fruit.  But it only takes a few days for fruit to turn into garbage. 

Paranoia?!?  BIG destroyer …

Bravo, Horsham!!

The official verdict is in … NO AIRPORT in Horsham!!

There was a palpable sense of relief throughout the audience, finally obtaining assurance that the Horsham Land Reuse Authority (HLRA) Board was in – almost unanimous – agreement with the overwhelming local sentiment that a functioning private/commercial airport was not in the best interests of Horsham Township’s future.

The crowd in attendance was – from my perspective – 95% opposed to the acceptance of any plan (NOI) to maintain an airport operation at the JRB Willow Grove site or to the suggestion – by the incomprehensible Montgomery County Commissioners’ submittal – that the runway be stashed in a coat closet for a few decades, just in case the need for a runway arises in 2040!

But that wasn’t the only laugher provided by the events of last night’s HLRA session to approve/disapprove Notices of Interest (NOI) from parties interested in utilizing space and facilities to be made available by the Navy’s abandonment of the JRB Willow Grove site.

The biggest laugh was reserved for the Bucks County Aviation Authority (BCAA) proposal to operate an airport. Citing Horsham’s loss of $650,000 in property tax offset (impact fees) from the U.S. Government and the township’s desire to maximize tax revenues from the site, the BCAA’s offer of a $5000-per-year stipend was met with a roomful of hearty guffaws. 

That’s not a misprint!  $5000.00-a-year!

Yet another entertaining moment came when David Pitcairn, a descendant of the original owners of the JRB property in the 1940s, attempted to make a case for accepting an airport operation there.  Humor could be found on several levels.

  1. He lives in Delaware County.  So the biggest effect an airport in Horsham would have on him is the 20 – 30 minutes he might spend on the tarmac waiting for his turn to rotate off into the wild blue! 
  2. His family SOLD the land to the U.S. Navy 70 years ago!
  3. Someone actually harbored the thought that his opinion would somehow hold sway over the skeptical local crowd.  It did not have the desired “Gee, if a Pitcairn wants an airport, what are we waiting for?” effect.

It was a long, drawn-out, tiring night.  (I lasted only until 9:30 with only nine NOI decisions out of 17 having been finalized.) And the tortuous travails endured by the HLRA board in listening patiently; calming the more jumpy cattle in the herd; and enduring some the more inane commentary from a few citizens who displayed but a fleeting grasp of the meeting’s objectives was enough to discourage any civic-minded citizen from ever considering public service.  The members of the HLRA Board, including Bill Donnelly who is currently running for the office of Montgomery County Prothonotary, are to be commended!

Before I left, the Board had approved every other non-airport NOI, including decisions to consider further local plans for open space, new roads, a future school and an additional firehouse should they become necessary, and a potential retirement/nursing home development.  And although I hope the Board approved the NOI application for a homeless veterans rehabilitation center, I could not hold out long enough to witness that result.  

But back to the action …

One of my favorite activities last night was watching HLRA Board Chairman, Bill Whiteside turning eight shades of red at the nitpicky, bordering-on-petty attempts by Board Member Steve Nelson to pull off a Houdini of a maneuver and throw the No Airport Movement off the tracks.  Nelson should have attended the meeting wearing his Jim Matthews mask and barn-storming pilot garb with matching leather jacket and helmet and a jaunty pair of goggles.  Rumors circulated that he and Young Pitcairn car-pooled to the meeting.  At one point, Mr. Whiteside’s half-turn-with-an-eyeroll to yet another Nelson foray was classic Seinfeld (the episode where Jerry deals with noisy movie-goers).

Nelson’s unbelievable attempts to claim that the HLRA was “rushing” into an airport decision, after ONLY six years of contemplating what to do with an 8000-ft, meters thick ribbon of concrete, was perhaps the height of hubris.  This presented the only time that board members pointedly criticized the position of a fellow member.  

When the final vote was taken on the only viable airport NOI proposal and the 8-1 vote recorded in favor of turning down the BCAA proposal, there was much rejoicing throughout the land.  Personally, I was a bit surprised by the nearly unanimous board vote.       

I only wish that I could convince myself that this is truly the end of Airport Road.  I remain suspicious that further legal and political maneuvering will continue by Regional Authorities reluctant to Kevorkian their Horsham airport visions. 

With that unsettling thought now out there, Horsham residents should celebrate this development and the progress towards more difficult and equally challenging decisions on the Township’s future.  This daunting, critical task of planning Horsham’s future is only beginning.  There will be many more decisions to be made, worth millions in dollars of investment and millions of dollars in revenue.  That road stretches for years.  

And just in case, we should all be prepared to man the ramparts again … should my suspicions prove warranted!

Horsham Land Reuse Authority meeting – Wednesday, July 27

The next step in Horsham’s LRA process for the soon-to-be-abandoned JRB Willow Grove site is this Wednesday at 7:00 PM at the Horsham Township Community Center.

The Board will review the Notices of Interest (NOI) submitted by homeless service providers and organizations qualifying for public benefit conveyances and provide guidance to the RKG Team on which applications should receive further review for possible inclusion in the reuse alternatives.

There will also be a period set aside for public comment, which – if nothing else - should be entertaining!

All kidding aside, this is another important step towards Horsham’s objective of local control over what kind of development becomes the future of a site that represents a huge area of Horsham Township.

An airport?  No airport?  Town center?  Corporate jets?  Corporate office space?  Open space?

The HLRA will consider the NOIs submitted and will narrow down those possibilities that could potentially become part of the end solution.

What do you think Horsham should look like in the future?!?  If you care, you should be there!

MontCo plan for airbase runway punted by Horsham LRA

Good article today in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Montgomery County’s poorly developed “plan” for preserving the runway at JRB Willow Grove.  The “plan” consisted of Montgomery Count expressing their desire to take possession of the runway as a “valuable future asset”.

That was it!  That’s the whole “plan”!! 

No financing, no maintenance, no discussion of feasibility …  certainly no responsibility either.  The County even went so far as to pointedly stress their lack of interest in running an airport.

Gee, what’s not to like?!? 

So the Horsham LRA punted that low-hanging fruit basket back at the County, and seemed to have a little fun doing it at Wednesday’s HLRA meeting.  

This development really changes nothing to the prospects for an airport, either for or against.  But it’s good to know that the “leadership” tenures of County Commissioners Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel will expire shortly!

Take the rest of the year off, guys …

Please.

And by the way, Bruce L Castor, Jr., who is running for re-election to the County Commission with Jenny Brown, has taken an anti-airport stance; backing local opposition to a commercial airport. 

Remember THAT in November’s election, Horsham!

The Greens of Horsham

(Apologies to followers of this blog for the overabundance of posts dealing with local Horsham issues revolving around the USG BRAC decision to close the JRB Willow Grove airbase.  This is a HUGE local issue for Horsham, where I live.  Our home is located in Horsham, barely 1/2 mile from the airbase.  This complex issue is coming to a head this Friday, June 10; so I anticipate that this theme will recur much less frequently in posts to follow.  Thanks for your patience!  -  Hatboro Mike)

Since I have been overwhelmingly anti-airport in postings here and elsewhere on the internet as well as my many conversations and recommendations to friends and neighbors, I have promised to provide my vision for the JRB Willow Grove property.  The following concepts are based on and limited by the following factors:

  1. Horsham Township does not NEED to make a boatload of money through exploitation of the JRB-WG site.  In years past, the U.S. Navy has paid the Township of Horsham – more accurately the Hatboro-Horsham School District – ONLY $750,000 annually to compensate the District for the airbase acreage that did not generate residential school taxes. Therefore, Horsham need only recoup that annual $750K PLUS the costs of maintaining the site and supporting whatever infrastructure might be required to accommodate what development goes  into the site.
  2. I would be perfectly happy if the solution to the JRB-WG site was revenue-neutral insofar as my tax burden is concerned.  My predominant interest is to maintain the level of quality-of-life and sense of community for which Horsham Township is known.  Obviously, the Township has been on the right path in the recent past, given the accolades it receives as a top-quality community in which to live. 
  3. I care little for the economic needs of the region, the jobless rate, the convenience of frequent air travelers, or the pleasures of aircraft hobbyists.  Yes, this is unapologetic NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard), which is completely defensible considering it is my backyard!  I have no doubt that anyone else in our – Horsham’s – position would do the same, if they felt their community and way-of-life threatened by all the possibilities.  Also, I sincerely doubt any of our regional neighbors will give a hoot about Horsham’s future once the die is cast.    
  4. I am no community planner, architect, real estate analyst, green techie, or regional economist.  Therefore, these suggestions indubitably need to be fleshed out and screened for economic realities.

I will go out on a limb, and assert that MOST Horshamites would much rather see a multi-use solution to the future of the JRB-WG site.  One that DOES NOT include an airport.  But one that does generate sufficient tax revenue to make the site at least tax-neutral and at best tax-reducing. 

My vision is one of multiple uses:

  • Solar energy farm … Hundreds (thousands??) of solar energy-collecting arrays that will help to power new development and perhaps allow for the collection of excess energy that can be shunted to municipal uses or sold to the existing energy grid.  I prefer these low-profile contraptions as opposed to the more imposing wind mills.   
  • Light industrial and office space development along the lines of the profile found in the complex surrounded by Commonwealth National Country Club. These structures would incorporate the latest in communication technology and environmentally sensitive design, including solar and wind turbine energy producers (along the lines of those planned for Lincoln Financial Field in the near future), no-flow urinals (See those used in Comcast’s new building in Center City.), etc.

(Many criticize this particular usage, based on the existence of under-occupied office space already existing in Horsham.  However, if done properly - in my opinion - we can attract office space renters from around the region, who will be attracted by economic incentives of such environmentally conscious designs as well as the job market advantage it might offer in attracting environmentally conscious young people as new employees.)

  • Lahaska in Horsham - I steal this idea from someone on reusethebase.com, I think.  I like the idea of a small outdoor revenue-producing community of artisan shops.  This would require substantial landscape engineering to convert the airbase into a rolling area of shops, small cafes/restaurants, a tavern or two, set in a bucolic strolling-type environment. (I also like the Main Street Horsham concept.  And this could be made part of or complimentary to “Main Street Horsham”.) 
  • Incorporate – in some manner – the static aircraft displays made available through the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association.  Now this might seem a bit incongruous with the “Lahaska in Horsham” theme, and it is frankly.  However with the amount of space available at the airbase site, there should be no problem or glaring inconsistency if both are given sufficient “buffer areas”.  The concept could be rolled into the strolling-type layout.
  • Obviously, open space in the form of play areas and athletic fields for Horsham and neighboring community uses.
  • I have no real issue with any of the non-runway associated NOIs submitted.  I think  Township residents should get strongly behind the idea of a transitional facility for homeless veterans, including the presence of a short-term alcohol and drug rehabilitation center.  We owe these veterans AT LEAST that much!

Off the reservation (or here’s where I get a bit pie-in-the-sky):

  • A tribute to Willow Grove’s historic past … Yes, I know we are Horsham, not Willow Grove; but the name does translate nicely given the airbase’s title for 70 years!  A century ago, Willow Grove was known for its spas and its musical entertainment. 
    • An area of quiet, subdued family fun (i.e. NOT an amusement park)
    • Resurrection of the old style carousel made famous when Willow Grove was a leisure destination
    • Incorporation of a small, sheltered, acoustically sound bandshell-type structure; seating no more than 500-1000 to keep it sedate and pleasant (i.e. NOT a mega-concert venue).  This would also represent a throw-back to quieter times; hosting performances by local music clubs, schools, and organizations; and providing a place for community-oriented theatre and summer concerts.
  • Golf Academy – OK, this one’s for me!!
    • There is plenty of land from which to carve a section that will provide a money-making, yet unobtrusive venture that – to my knowledge – would be unique to this golf-hungry region without the troublesome and risky need to build a golf course.
    • Driving range, expansive areas for the construction of several undulating greens for the purposes of short-game instruction.  One expansive hanger-type structure for the construction of indoor chipping and putting greens for use during the winter seasons.  (Not to be confused with the already existing hangers in place, but perhaps these could be used if other uses DO NOT materialize.)
    • There are many club pros and teaching pros throughout the area who have to rely on inadequate driving-range type operations to ply their trade. One all-inclusive facility, conveniently located in the midst of a golf-crazy area could attract a stable of pros looking for better teaching facilities where all facets of the game that drives me crazy could be addressed!
    • I am under no misconception that my particular game would improve appreciably; but others could certainly benefit.  And golfers have money they’re willing to spend, if it gives them a chance to brag in the clubhouse! 

The runway?!?  It would make a nice parking lot!

There it is!  Practicality mixed in with a few brain-storms-in-a-tea-cup-type ideas.