Community divided over future of former air base

HORSHAM TWP., PA. - July 27, 2011

The community surrounding the old Willow Grove Naval Air Base is divided as plans for a civilian airport could be one step closer to taking off or being grounded for good.

The 8,000 foot runway and its supporting structures have been deserted, allowing weeds to grow through some of the pavement.

Meanwhile, there are several thick books containing proposals of what the nearly 900 acre base could become in civilian life.

Local governments are on record wanting a mix of user friendly roads and developments while Montgomery County and Bucks County Airport Authority want a general aviation airport.

The sense is it's an either or situation.

For those envisioning a town center, a school and parks, the runway has got to go. However, those envisioning an active airport find it tough to imagine a town center and all the rest.

"We've always enjoyed the Navy planes flying in and you see the President fly in on Air Force One sometimes," said Horsham resident Jim Coyle. "It's been a part of this neighborhood forever."

Neighbor Jack Lawlor, however, is against an airport, citing a history of crashes and concern that small planes could give way to Boeing jets.

"Once they get an OK to run private small planes, they have the option to bring anything they want in."

An either or decision will likely be made tonight by a special nine person land use board.

"I think that the most crucial decision that the board will have to make is whether we will have aviation at the formal base or not aviation," said Executive Director of Horsham Land Use Authority Mike McGee.

The Horsham Land Use Authority Board meets tonight at 7 at the Township Auditorium. A standing room only crowd is expected.

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