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Fort Richie redevelopment discussed

May 21, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Officials from PenMar Development Corp., the U.S. Army and Washington County addressed issues linked to the redevelopment of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base during a public meeting at the Cascade base Monday night.

About 50 people, mostly residents of Cascade and surrounding areas, attended the meeting at Lakeside Hall.

The Army has agreed to transfer ownership of the 638-acre former base to PenMar - which the Maryland General Assembly created in 1996 to redevelop the former base for business - in phases.

The first phase of the land transfer includes 236 acres with two lakes and property being used by the International Masonry Institute.

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The deed-signing ceremony for that land was slated for Monday, but was canceled after PenMar tenant Role Models America - one of about four tenants leasing space on the former base - filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 10.

PenMar officials are working to get that and other legal issues with Role Models resolved - including petitioning the court to evict Role Models - so the land transfer can proceed as planned, PenMar Board Chairman Brett Wilson said Monday.

The "new flap" with Role Models "might slow us down but it won't stop us," Wilson said. "We're relying on the courts to act expeditiously."

The second and third phases of the transfer have been held up because they are part of a 250-acre section of the former base being examined for unexploded ordnance. Cleanup work at the base has unearthed about 75,000 metallic items, including more than 260 live rounds, said Bill Hofmann, base realignment and closure environmental coordinator.

The work is about 80 percent complete, he said.

Wilson said the phase-one conveyance delay has also stalled but not stopped the masonry institute's plans to buy the 26 acres on which the school has been operating. IMI officials have said they want to build a $40 million building complex that would employ 200 workers.

To prepare for such development and possible public access to open space portions of the former base, PenMar will build an access road and update some water and sewer lines, Wilson said.

PenMar will pay the county to manage and maintain the water system at Fort Ritchie with the hope that the county eventually will take ownership of the system, Wilson said.

PenMar might someday dedicate such land as the former base's lakes, parade grounds and ballfields to the county so the property could be used by the public, Wilson said.

Several area residents said Monday that such recreational areas are needed in the area.

"The children up here have nothing to do. We have no recreation at all," said Marie Bradley of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

The county, which can't yet afford "any kind of capital improvement expansions," initially would be interested in Fort Ritchie's lakes for the recreational opportunities they offer, said county Planning Director Robert Arch.

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