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!

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