Horsham LRA meeting – Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Attended the Horsham Land Reuse Authority meeting at 3:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon, May 4 at the Horsham Township Municipal Building.  These meetings are where the HLRA deals with the general business of the HLRA, including the approval of expenditures and contracts (One for auditing services was discussed.); and where it manages the LRA’s complex interactions with the U.S. Navy and other communities.  There were several impressions I came away with:

  • The relatively small, less emotional audience allows time to be used more efficiently.  But attendance at these meeting is no less important.  Few Horsham residents appeared to be there.
  • In general, the content is extremely dry, and may cause uncontrolled episodes of loud snoring.
  • With few Horsham residents in attendance, the audience and public commentary is certainly more pro-airport than witnessed in the evening meetings when more work-a-day Horsham residents attend.
  • You must be a dedicated public servant/community leader to put up with the minutia of public business and the pleadings of supplicants. Several airport supporters attempted to push for an FAA study to assess the economic benefits of an airport at the site.  (A tactic – I assume – is intended to keep the topic of airport development alive and on the table.)  Committee Chairman, Bill Whiteside, adeptly sidestepped the issue, denying airport proponents – for the time being – access to an FAA study that might provide favorable cover for the airport concept.  But this issue will be raised again.  

Certainly you can see that those whose interests support an airport find their voice in this setting.  A regular participant at the meeting confirmed for me that the bulk of individuals attending afternoon HLRA meetings were typically pro-airport for JRB Willow Grove reuse plans.

I learned several things during the 90-minute meeting:

  • Some Horsham residents might be surprised to see a neighbor or two they would never suspect, pushing for an airport-based plan while living in their midst.  While one self-identified Horsham resident stood up to push the need for the FAA study mentioned above, a HLRA regular leaned in to whisper that, if his neighbors were here, they’d kill him.    
  • Horsham Township Council has decided that it will oppose all efforts to develop the JRB Willow Grove site as a commercial airport or business airpark.  To this end they have initiated several re-zoning measures for lands surrounding the airbase that will render any future efforts to develop a commercial airport there much more difficult, perhaps impossible.  (So goes my understanding.  But I’m not a lawyer.)  
  • The airport concept is supported by several groups, not all of them of an obvious nature.  They are …
    • Pilots, who for obvious reasons would like access to such a large, developed airfield.  Many –  I suspect – are drawn to the airbase due to its history, convenience, and runway length. 
    • Corporate aircraft passengers … Another obvious group consisting of high-end air travelers and private owners who would love to avoid the Philly airports or simply one closer to home. 
    • Frequent commercial airline passengers … Business travelers, unable to afford private corporate aircraft, who are tired of the hassles associated with flying out of Philadelphia International and other major airports north and south of the Philly area.  These individuals want to see a fully functioning commercial airport there.
    • Business owners and developers who see the base property either as an opportunity for growth or as a site for competing properties.  Since competition lowers pricing and revenue, some of these investors actually want to see an airport there in order to limit the availability of commercial real estate, therefore keeping rents on existing space higher.
  • Horsham Township will never take possession of any lands other than those specifically requested by it.  (Lands requested by Horsham Township included 60 acres for a new school, additional acreage for open space, and existing infrastructure supporting the base.)  The HLRA simply develops the plan, that if approved by the U.S. Navy results in the direct transfer of assets to the end-user under specific terms of use.   
  • The possibility of an airport is not the only threat to Horsham’s quality-of-life.  Just check out some of the comments on reusethebase.com.  Land speed track is shorthand for drag racing (Think Atco Speedway).  Wouldn’t that be nice to hear on those soft summer evenings out on your deck?!?  (Frankly, I think this might be a scare tactic along the lines of, “Think an airport would be BAD?  Look what could end up there instead!”)      

My point in all this is to stress that Horsham residents cannot let their guard down.  They must continue to remain active, not just for the well-publicized community meetings held in the evenings, but also for these important but sparsely attended afternoon meetings.  Not only will it keep you informed, but a strong township presence will lend moral support to those on The Board looking to limit the most intrusive threats to Horsham’s quality-of-life. 

The next HLRA meeting is scheduled for May 18 at 3:00 PM.

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