Area residents skeptical of Fort Ritchie plan

February 25, 1997


Staff Writer

FORT RITCHIE - Area residents Tuesday expressed skepticism about a plan to turn Fort Ritchie into a combination technology center and conference destination.

Some of the approximately 100 residents who showed up at the hearing said they liked the proposal developed by consultants hired by the Fort Ritchie Local Redevelopment Authority. Others, however, questioned whether the plan would work once the Army closes the base in October 1998.

Smithsburg resident Don Courier said the plan was too ambitious for the Washington County Commissioners, which must sign off on the proposal and appoint board members to oversee it. He said the federal and state governments should take the lead instead.


"Do you know anything about the water/sewer mess?" he said. "That's the same bunch of guys who are going to be in charge of this."

Other residents expressed doubts that the area's roads would be able to support the educational facilities, training sites and high-technology businesses that consultants Sasaki Associates Inc. and Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler Inc. envision.

Some residents also said the base, tucked in the northeast corner of the county, is too remote to be an attractive site for development.

Frederick L. Merrill Jr., an official with Sasaki Associates, tried to reassure residents that the area has a lot of potential. While its location would discourage industrial development and manufacturing, he said it's rural atmosphere is ideal for an educational setting and as a business training and conference site.

Merrill also noted that base's peak employment - about 3,500 - is more than the projected 2,200 jobs the site will create over the next two decades.

Other concerns ranged from the details of the plan to its preliminary name. Several residents urged that the name - the Pen Mar Technology & Corporate Center - be changed to reflect Albert C. Ritchie, for whom the base is named.

Mary Rae Cantwell lamented the fact that the consultants scrapped an earlier consideration that would have turned the area into vacation homes. She said such an idea could have built on the region's historical attributes.

"Tourists would have come up here on the weekend and during the week, we'd be safe," she said.

Merrill said the base presents a much better opportunity than most closed military facilities.

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