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Dispute delays PenMar land deal

March 12, 2001

Dispute delays PenMar land deal



By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A landlord/tenant dispute is delaying the transfer of the U.S. Army's Fort Ritchie property to PenMar Development Corp.

The Army won't complete the land transfer until it completes an investigation of allegations against PenMar made by base tenant Role Models America, Army officials have said in interviews and correspondence.

In a Feb. 22 letter written in response to questions from Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, both D-Md., Acting Army Secretary Gregory R. Dahlberg said the Army was investigating "correspondence expressing concerns" regarding PenMar.

An Army spokesman said Monday that letters citing complaints about PenMar came from Role Models America. PenMar Board Chairman Steven Hull and Jimmie Jones, principal and commandant of the academy, said they could not comment because they had not seen the letters. Role Models President Robert Alexander was out of town and could not be reached for comment Friday or Monday.

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Four Army representatives attended the PenMar board's regular monthly meeting Monday after reportedly being asked to explain the letter and the situation. That meeting was closed to the public and participants refused to discuss what was said.

The PenMar board and the Army negotiating team approved a memorandum of agreement in November to transfer the 638-acre former base to PenMar ownership, PenMar Executive Director James LaFleur has said.

PenMar had expected approval of the document in January 2001 and would have taken title to the first phase of the property no later than July 2001, LaFleur said. Neither has occured.

Because of the investigation, the Army is now estimating final "review and signature may occur no later than July 1," Dahlberg said in the letter. A new date for the transfer has not been given.

PenMar has subleased land at the Army post to Role Models America and the International Masonry Institute.

Dahlberg's letter mentions three complaints - "leasing practices, funding under the Cooperative Agreement and government actions during the excess property screening process" - but does not elaborate on them.

The Army refused a request by The Herald-Mail for copies of the Role Models letters.

PenMar was created by the Maryland General Assembly to redevelop the land for business use to replace the 2,000 jobs lost when Fort Ritchie closed in September 1998.

"These issues must be resolved prior to executing the MOA and binding the Army to actions that might not be appropriate. Our inquiry is under way and we are working to respond expeditiously," Dahlberg wrote in his Feb. 22 letter.

PenMar recently filed a lawsuit against Role Models, asking a judge to rule that two flagpoles put up on subleased property with permission must be removed. The suit also blocks the academy, which is running a program for high school dropouts, from putting up more flag poles.

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