If applicants have their way, a general aviation airport, educational campuses, homeless housing, parks, a retirement community and connecting roads would be on the blueprint for the Willow Grove air base’s redevelopment.
As of Tuesday’s deadline, 16 notices of interest were filed with the Horsham Land Reuse Authority, the body charged with leading the redevelopment of 892 acres at the air station.
Governmental agencies, nonprofit groups and other entities interested in providing a “public benefit conveyance” have the opportunity to acquire some of the land either for free, or at a dramatically reduced rate.
In order to be considered, groups had to submit a lengthy application to the HLRA outlining the proposed use, as well as specific land and facilities requested.
But, before any land changes hands, over the next several months, the HLRA and its consultant, RKG Associates, will review and analyze the applications and weigh each against the economic impact of the requested use.
From there, the HLRA will craft a redevelopment plan, which is due to the Department of Defense in December.
HLRA executive director Mike McGee said that applicants are not guaranteed anything at this point.
“Some or all of these may be adopted as requested or amended,” McGee said. “We have to analyze them to see which ones are even complete … We haven’t even looked at them.”
The Bucks County Airport Authority made the largest acreage request, for a total of 681.57 acres. Dubbed the Pitcairn Aviation Business Center, the authority, in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration, is proposing using the runway for general aviation and corporate flight operations.
As part of the Airport Improvement Program and the Military Airport Program, grants would be sought for future development and maintenance projects, according to the submission.
“The airport is seen as a major driver of future economic developments,” the application states.
Residents, as well as Horsham Township elected officials, have spoken out against continued use of the runway once the military leaves. At last week’s HLRA meeting, airport proponents said the 8,000-foot-long runway should remain.
In addition to the Bucks County Airport Authority, last week, Montgomery County expressed an interest in the runway. The county submitted an application for 540 acres consisting of the runways, taxiways, hangars, maintenance buildings and resources specific to aviation.
Aside from airport use, several entities, including Hatboro-Horsham School District, Warminster-based ATG Learning Academy, and Fort Washington-based Play and Learn early education and child care center, requested land. ATG proposed building an educational campus to house a projected 40 students at the base’s 10,000-square-foot personnel support detachment.
The YMCA of Philadelphia and Vicinity submitted a proposal for the 27,000-square-foot Marine training center, plus a minimum of 40 acres to establish the Willow Grove YMCA full-day child care program and the Willow Grove YMCA regional summer day camp.
Philadelphia Stand Down, a veterans organization which has provided homeless assistance to 6,000 veterans in the five-county area during its 17-year history, has requested several buildings to house administrative staff, store items, provide an education and training center, offer a 30-bed drug and alcohol detoxification center, and provide transient housing for homeless veterans.
"A better way to describe it is transient housing while we attempt to locate more permanent facilities for them,” according to the application.
Bucks County Housing Group also applied for land to house the homeless.
Here’s a brief look at the remaining applications:
Horsham Township: As indicated during a recent township council meeting, Horsham applied for 128 acres of park/open space. Separate notices of interest were submitted for the existing fire station on the air base and roads surrounding the air base, with the intent to connect the roads through the sprawling 1,100-acre property
Horsham Water and Sewer Authority: The authority requested two easements to install a sanitary sewer interceptor with the goal of supplying a sanitary sewer to the air base property, as well as to tributaries in the township.
Montgomery County: As noted during last week’s HLRA meeting, the county has applied for parkland to house the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association’s Wings of Freedom museum. The public park would feature aircraft displays, walking paths, trees, shrubs and a “hands-on” museum featuring “virtual reality simulators” for different aircraft. The current museum, which is located on Route 611 adjacent to the base, would be a restoration facility.
ACTS Retirement Life Community Inc.: The West Point-based nonprofit has requested 60 to 80 acres to develop a “typical community.” The group operates Southampton Estates, Gwynnedd Estates in Ambler and Fort Washington Estates.
Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue: The group has requested land to house a permanent station, storage and staging, weatherproof storage, and parking for search and rescue team vehicles, water craft and trailers.