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New chief may get fort redevlopment on track

February 28, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

The appointment of a Baltimore County man as executive director of PenMar Development Corp. is an opportunity to turn the slow-moving effort to redevelop the Fort Ritchie Army Base into something Washington County can be proud of. But given the limitations of the site, the new director will need all the help he can get.

George W. Fletcher was hired by the Washington County Commissioners this past Tuesday, after serving with Proctor & Gamble as a a corporate realty manager since 1996. Prior to that, Fletcher worked with Westinghouse and according to Brett Wilson, Pen Mar''s chairman, the new chief has "a couple of decades" experience in industrial site development.

The old fort will not be an easy site to sell for many uses. The clean-up of unexploded ordnance will not be complete until 2003 and both access roads are two-lane streets with almost no shoulder areas. The latter would seem to rule out heavy manufacturing or distribution, because the site is just too far from an interstate highway.

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We have long believed that something education-related would be a good use. Perhaps it could hold a corporate conference center, where workers could come for a week and get training or perhaps engage in religious-style retreats.

All the facilities that served the troops could serve such a facility, which might have a better chance of success now that the Franklin County Development Authority has run into some financial roadblocks in its quest to create a similar facility at the Grove Worldwide Training Center.

Another thing Fletcher should do is get a member of the Cascade community on PenMar's board. PenMar's board's chairman Wilson agreed that it would be a good idea, but said he would never advocate appointing someone based on where they live.

We disagree. Cascade and PenMar need each other, but up until now, residents have been kept an arm's length from any policy decisions. It's time for some more trust and cooperation.

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