Whatever may fill the nearly 900 acres vacated by the shuttered Willow Grove Naval Air Station, Horsham Township officials and residents can tell you one thing that won't: an airport.
The Horsham Land Reuse Authority resoundingly voted down two proposals Wednesday night to preserve the closed base's 8,000-foot runway for future commercial air traffic.
But the decision - greeted by a standing ovation from a packed, anti-airport crowd - left supporters lamenting a day later the overwhelming influence that local interests had in the process.
"It may be a win for Horsham, but it's a huge loss for the region," said John Mininger, chairman of the Bucks County Airport Authority, which submitted one of the two airport proposals.
"I don't know that the local people should have complete veto power over such an important piece of national infrastructure," he said.
That's the way it ought to be, said HLRA Chairman W. William Whiteside, also a member of the Horsham Township Council.
"Part of the consideration should be, 'What do the people that live near the base want?' " he said. "That's the way the process is set up."
Since the federal government announced it would decommission the Willow Grove base in 2005, the HLRA has led the effort to develop a reuse plan for the property that borders Route 611.
Horsham residents make up the majority of the nine-member board. Their ranks include three current or former members of the council, the superintendent of the Hatboro-Horsham School District, two business leaders, and one resident.
Commissioners in Bucks and Montgomery Counties each have one representative on the panel - not enough to sway decision-making in a significant way, planners said.
Wednesday's meeting left no question where Horsham stood when it came to two requests, from Montgomery County and the Bucks County Airport Authority, arguing that preserving the runway would be smart planning for the region.
The airport authority's more detailed proposal suggested turning the runway into an airfield catering to corporate planes and private jets. The Willow Grove airstrip is one of the few remaining undeveloped spaces in the region suitable for an airfield, its proposal said.
But since county planners made their interest known in March, Horsham residents - who have lived with the roar or military jet engines taking off and landing for years - objected loudly and often.
Wednesday night's meeting was no different. The nearly 400-member crowd jeered Steve Nelson, Montgomery County's director of policy and the board's lone dissenting voice on the airport decision, when he suggested that HLRA members could not vote knowledgeably on the proposals without more detailed studies on their impact.
"This is perhaps the most significant development decision that Horsham has seen in a generation," he said. "I know that there is strong opposition in this community, but I think it's a valid economic resource to at least be considered."
Whiteside countered that whether official studies had been done or not, board members had done their own research. He offered to e-mail Nelson videos of plane crashes if he had any continuing concerns.
Others in the audience expressed concerns that aviation gasoline could contaminate the blood of children, that an airport would significantly diminish the school district's ability to teach, and that airports have been linked to asthma.
One woman yelled, "I want to strangle that man," to one of the few who dared speak in favor of preserving Willow Grove's runway.
Although the authority cautioned Wednesday that any decisions made that night might be reversed during the planning process, airport advocates held out little hope Thursday that their plans might be revived.
"I just think this is a missed opportunity," said Nelson. "One that we're going to regret in the long run."
In addition to the airport decision, authority members approved proposals from the township, school district and parks department, among others, for inclusion in the reuse plan they hope to submit to the Navy by the end of the year.
Remaining land is expected to be divided for commercial development later in the process.
The HLRA must receive federal approval for its final reuse plan before any development can begin.