Developing a Dream

MEGAN BADGER / WIRE PHOTO
NAS-JRB Willow Grove has been sitting idle since its official closure in September 2011. The redevelopment board has adopted a plan to reuse the 910 acres of land within the naval base.

It’s been a long time coming.

Since the Naval base closed in 2005, the reuse of 910 acres of land has been a concern of the Horsham community.

The Horsham Land Redevelopment Association (HLRA) has been constructing a plan to reuse a large section of land previously occupied by the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove since its closure in 2005. The HLRA’s plan, which was created with the help of the Horsham community, will feature a town center, office park, homeless housing and a recreation center on the massive property.

But, in order to implement the redevelopment plan, the Navy must evaluate the land and complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to assess the consequences of the proposed actions.

At a Dec. 19 HLRA meeting, board members discussed the scope of the Navy’s EIS and evaluated information obtained at two public forums held in Horsham on Dec. 13 and 14.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion amongst the public who are not familiar with environmental impact statements,” explained HLRA Executive Director Michael McGee.

The HLRA has received emails from angry residents regarding the EIS process, specifically the Navy’s decision to explore four distinct options for reuse of the land, including an airport.

“Any major projects — including road improvements — go through the same thing and you have to study alternatives,” McGee explained. “Some people think that the Navy is studying all those options as an alternate to our plan. I think the Navy did a very good job and they said, time and time again to anyone who would listen, that they are not second-guessing the HLRA approved redevelopment plan. That’s how the property is going to be built out.”

McGee also emphasized that the EIS process is complicated and is separate from the redevelopment plan.

“Our mission is to get rid of the property, to transfer the property out of Navy hands, and they’re looking forward to doing that,” McGee said. “While we’re certainly in a rush to get it done, no property will be transferred until the EIS is done. We’re still at the mercy of waiting for the EIS to be complete.”

The EIS draft is expected to be completed in the summer of 2013, according to the Navy website. After the draft is complete, two public meetings will be held, McGee said. The first meeting will introduce the EIS draft and the second will focus on public comment.

While the EIS requires that the Navy study every viable option for reuse of the land, the HLRA board is confident that their approved redevelopment plan is what will be carried out. According the HLRA website, the redevelopment plan is “focused on the creation of job-generating uses through a variety of mixed uses.”

The HLRA has proposed using 13 acres of the land on Easton Road for an aviation museum and park run by the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association, which is currently operating the museum on a smaller parcel of land at the same location. Approximately 10 acres will be used to build 70 housing units for the homeless, in accordance with the Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homeless Assistance Act of 1994.

Also included in the plan is a town center, which will be used for retail, office, entertainment and residential purposes. Inside the town center will be business parks, retail stores, and a hotel and conference center. The HLRA also proposed creating a regional recreation center with outdoor fields, a gymnasium, a fitness club and tennis courts. The recreation center would be built near a 40-acre site on the base set aside for a new Hatboro-Horsham School District building.

While much of the 910 acres will be developed, the HLRA plan does include 205 acres of parks and open space, including a community golf course and bicycle trails.

Overall, the HLRA estimates that the redevelopment plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and $13.6 million in revenue for the Hatboro-Horsham School District and Horsham Township.

For a complete look at the NAS-JRB Redevelopment Plan, visit www.hlra.org. For more information about the Navy’s EIS process, visit www.willowgroveeis.com.

Megan Badger can be reached

at mbadger@bsmphilly.com.