Compromise revives Fort Ritchie legislation

April 06, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County business leaders and lawmakers struck a compromise with some Maryland General Assembly leaders Sunday that should allow the passage today of legislation that could be critical to the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie.

The new legislation would establish the public-private PenMar Development Corp., which will be responsible for turning the fort into a combination corporate technology park and business training center after the Army closes the base next year. However, the legislation will not give the new corporation the power to buy and sell bonds, which local officials had pushed for.

"This certainly isn't preferable, but it beats not having any bill at all," said Wayne E. Alter Jr., marketing chairman for the Local Redevelopment Authority that is planning the Fort Ritchie transition.


Alter's comments came after he and several other local officials met for 45 minutes with Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore City, who chairs the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, the committee's vice chairman.

The hastily arranged meeting came after local officials heard last week that Hoffman and Amoss were opposing the legislation. They came to Annapolis stressing that losing the bill would take away crucial local control of the fort's redevelopment, as well as possibly missing out on crucial federal funds.

"This is a tremendously important bill to Washington County," said D. Robert Enten, a lobbyist representing the Local Redevelopment Authority.

But Hoffman and Amoss reiterated their position that the redevelopment of the fort could be handled through the existing Maryland Development Corp. (MEDCO), a Baltimore-based agency that has marketed various vacant industrial complexes in the state.

"I just really believe that (MEDCO) can do it and we don't need another development authority," Amoss said.

Of particular concern to Hoffman was the bonding authority the corporation would have. She said she is concerned that such power could create another situation like the state's savings and loan crisis of a decade ago - where the state was not responsible for liabilities but assumed the liabilities.

"We don't want to a precedent set where we allow every locality to set up a separate authority with the ability to sell bonds," Hoffman said.

It was agreed that a bill would be drafted - and pushed through he legislature on the final day of the annual 90-day session today - that would put the corporation's financing needs under MEDCO.

The business leaders said they can live with the amended bill, which will still allow them to have the agency that can take possession of the 638-acre base next year. And if there is anything that needs to be changed, they can always come back next year to try to have legislation amended, they said.

Getting started now is crucial, they said, because the fort will be competing with other soon-to-be-closed bases for a limited amount of federal redevelopment funds.

"It's better than losing the bill," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the county delegation in the General Assembly. "It's an important project for economic development."

The Herald-Mail Articles