Thursday, March 22, 2012

Horsham board OKs base redevelopment plan

"The Horsham Land Reuse Authority board voted 7-1 Wednesday afternoon to move forward with the preferred land use plan for the closed Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base.

Now, the 862-acre ball (that represents 8 percent of Horsham’s land) is in the federal government’s court as the plan is expected to be sent for final approval by the March 31 deadline.

The lone “no” vote came from authority member Steve Nelson, who represents the Montgomery County commissioners and is acting director for the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

Nelson had expressed concerns about increased traffic that would come from the proposal that includes more than 1,400 new residential units.

The authority hired land planning consultants RKG Associates to develop the reuse map that includes an approximately 2.5-mile boulevard that would dissect the property along the closed runway from Keith Valley Road as well as extensions of Privet, Precision and Norristown roads running into the property.

Nelson took issue with the fact that the plan did not address regional traffic issues specifically enough for the complete build-out that is estimated to take 20 to 30 years.

He wanted studies done to include County Line Road, Horsham Road and Route 611, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike Exchange.

“I remain concerned about traffic,” Nelson said. “The project here is bigger than the borough of Hatboro. It does not adequately address it. Now is the time we need to start looking at that.”

Board members, including Nelson, did have a meeting with PennDOT officials over the plan on Tuesday.

Horsham Land Reuse Authority Executive Director Mike McGee, also the former longtime Horsham manger, said the PennDOT meeting was productive and evidence that the board is being proactive to address not only traffic the base project will generate, but traffic issues now.

McGee said the idea is to get input from not only Montgomery County officials, but Bucks County officials as well, to develop a long-term regional traffic study.

The board on Wednesday also authorized staff, including McGee and deputy director Tom Ames, to apply for a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to perform the study and look at ways to obtain more grants from both the federal and state government for projects.

As for the plan passed Wednesday, McGee told Nelson it was more similar to a broad, comprehensive plan municipalities create to look at future redevelopment and not a specific “development plan.”

“I think Mr. Nelson is correct. The traffic input (on the plan) does not address a regional solution, but does address this property,” McGee said. “What we need right now is a plan (for Willow Grove). We need the board to say they like the plan so we can start the work to implement it.”

When Nelson said he thought the map was a development plan, the board’s solicitor, Mary Eberle, strongly sided with McGee. Eberle also works as solicitor for Horsham and other local municipalities and said the Willow Grove reuse map is not like a true development map that would show detours and other specifics.

Those details would be addressed later as land is transferred and the new owners go through the municipal planning process, Eberle said.

Nelson was also the only reuse member to vote for keeping the 8,000-foot runway open. Two proposals were shot down in July 2011, one submitted by Montgomery County and the other by the Bucks County Airport Authority.

Nelson said his “no” vote Wednesday had nothing to do with the runway issue that was by far the most contentious piece of the redevelopment puzzle over the past several years.

About 40 people attended the meeting in the Horsham Township Building, but the only one to speak was David Pitcairn. Pitcairn does not live in Horsham, but his family has old ties to the property before the Navy acquired it.

Pitcairn said he wanted the board to consider giving a large hangar to the Wings of Freedom Museum that is part of the redevelopment plan. The board had discussed the issue at length at previous meetings and voted to give the museum just over 13 acres for its expansion, but not the property that the hangar sits on.

McGee said Wednesday the hangar, as well as nearly 100 structures, will need to be demolished because they will sit vacant for years without utilities and because many will have to be brought up to code.

The highlight of the proposed plan is a 27-acre, mixed-use town center of residential, business, retail and open space located between Route 611 and Horsham Road near Norristown Road. Local officials hope it will drive the development economically and recreationally.

The largest amount of acreage — 213.5 — is planned for roads and sidewalks, followed by 204 acres put aside for open space, including a par-3 golf course, playing fields and parkland.

The residential portion of the recommended reuse plan includes 1,416 units: 90 large-lot single family units; 250 small-lot single family units; 350 townhomes; 400 apartment/condominiums; and 326 continuing care units for the elderly.

The Hatboro-Horsham School District was also approved for 40 acres for a proposed middle school.

The total for combined public and private infrastructure costs is estimated at approximately $160 million, according to reuse authority chairman William Whiteside.

RKG vice president Russell Archambault listened in by conference call. He has estimated the plan could generate $5 million annually in revenues.

The vote was hardly a surprise as the map has remained virtually the same for the past two months after about six years of planning and public input.

Now, the Department of Defense will receive a copy by the end of the month and review its viability and ability to generate revenue. The Department of Housing and Urban Development also must determine proper consideration was given to aid the homeless as mandated by federal law associated with military surplus property.

McGee said the authority is in the “home stretch” of signing legal binding agreements for the homeless plan submitted by the Bucks County Housing Group, Genesis Housing Corp. and The Reinvestment Fund that proposes to construct 70 units of supportive housing on 10 acres planned for near Route 611, just south of the 200-acre Horsham Air Guard Station."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.