And, unlike other meetings, which drew hundreds opposing an airport, the 3 p.m. last hurrah of sorts, is expected to pass with little fanfare. HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee said the board received “very few” comments during the month-long public comment period that precedes this week’s meeting.
While plan tweaks and, in some cases, acreage reconfigurations had been fairly common throughout the process of late, McGee said he expects the only adjustment to be a change in location for the Bucks County Housing Group’s planned homeless housing. Instead of being situated at the site of the Navy Lodge, the 70 townhouses – a change from the 30 one to two bedroom apartments – are planned for a roughly 10-acre area near the Horsham Air Guard Station.
In fact, McGee said ironing out the few remaining wrinkles in a legally binding agreement for homeless housing is the final obstacle – except for any modifications requested by the federal government - upon submitting the plan by the March 31 deadline.
The 862-acre plan comprises roughly 1,400 total housing units, a town center, office park, open space, an aviation museum, a new middle school for Hatboro-Horsham School District and a road network through the base.
“I will be absolutely shocked if the plan as submitted doesn’t come back to us, particularly from (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), with comments,” McGee said.
Some Patch users have expressed displeasure with homeless housing being integrated into the plan, a notion that McGee said the federal government mandates as part of the base redevelopment process.
The “fear” that many share, according to Nancy Szamborski, Bucks County Housing Group executive director, is that a homeless shelter would be built in the midst of a suburban landscape. That is and has never been the plan, Szamborski said.
“We’re trying to build something that people would be proud to live in … We don’t want it to stand out and look like a housing project,” Szamborski said. “They don’t want something that’s going to be a blight and we don’t either. We want to blend into the community. We want to be a good neighbor. You want this to be an asset to people who are already here.”
Szamborski, who before joining Bucks County Housing Group had worked for the Navy for 20 years as a civilian, had spent half of her time working at the 1,100-acre parcel formerly known as Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove.
Because of her service there and because of the decades of service of the men and women who were stationed there, Szamborski said it’s only right that disabled veterans be “prioritized” for the housing. Dubbed permanent supportive housing, the occupant would pay 30 percent of the rent to live there and would be provided with services that would help them become self sufficient, Szamborski said.
“They may be people who came back from one of the wars and have a disability and they’ve fallen on hard times,” she said. “Maybe somebody lost a job.”
On average, people live in the homes for about four years, she said.
“People don’t necessarily stay homeless forever,” Szamborski said. Speaking from experience, Szamborski said she was once homeless.
“My husband died, I had an infant, I had no place to live,” Szamborski said, adding that she moved in with family. “That’s what the homeless people look like in Bucks County more and more. In suburban areas, the face of homelessness is different than in an urban area.”
How the homeless housing portion of the plan will evolve is unknown. McGee estimated that discussions and revisions would be “ongoing probably for years.”
With the redevelopment plan for Willow Grove air base all but signed, sealed and delivered to the federal government, McGee said the “planning” HLRA’s duties are winding down. He anticipates monthly meetings to continue for at least the next three to four months and as needed when items come back for review, or revisions.
“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” McGee said.
If Horsham Township Council and the HLRA collectively agree to move forward in requesting an economic development conveyance, as was discussed previously, both entities would need to determine if an “implementing” HLRA should be formed.
“It traditionally is a different organization, a different corporation containing different people,” McGee said. “You need money people and people accustomed to doing transactions.”
As for if and when a new HLRA board will be formed, McGee said he would not know that answer until he hears from the township council – and after the final redevelopment plan is submitted to the Department of Defense.
“(The federal government) will never recognize an implementing LRA until a plan is submitted,” McGee said.
McGee expects that last local hurdle to be overcome Wednesday afternoon when the HLRA meets at 3 p.m. in the Horsham Township Community Center to adopt its reuse plan.