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Citizens committee requested for Ritchie redevelopment

July 08, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Two Cascade men have asked the Washington County Commissioners to set up a citizens advisory commission to help redevelop the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base to ensure county residents aren't left out of future plans for the complex.

At least two county commissioners, however, said they are hesitant to support another committee at this time.

The charge is being led by Cascade residents Jim Lemon and Karl Weissenbach, who claim a commission is necessary to represent the residents who live near the former base.

"Its success or failure will certainly impact Washington County, and Cascade-area residents will be among the most heavily impacted county citizens," they stated in a July 3 letter to the Washington County Commissioners.

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The PenMar Development Corp. was created by the state in 1996 to redevelop the 638-acre former base once the Army transfers ownership of the land to PenMar.

Weissenbach said Sunday that what happens to the former base would also affect the entire county and that residents from other parts of the county should be on the commission as well.

"We're trying not to make this just a Cascade issue, but a Washington County issue," Weissenbach said.

Lemon could not be reached for comment.

Commissioner Vice President Paul L. Swartz said Sunday the PenMar Board of Directors is already working on redevelopment plans.

"It would probably be counterproductive to have two boards going at the same time," Swartz said.

Swartz also said he hoped that the new PenMar Development Corp. executive director, when hired, would hold informal meetings with community members to discuss plans for the former base.

He urged patience from Cascade residents until a new executive director is hired.

Commissioner William Wivell, who is also on the PenMar Board of Directors, stated in a June 26 e-mail to Weissenbach that he would keep an open mind about the proposal but that the necessity for the commission would need to be established first.

Wivell stated that the area already has several citizens committees, including the One Mountain Foundation and the Cascade Committee.

He also stated in the e-mail that it's the responsibility of the commissioners and other county boards to understand the desires of the community.

Weissenbach said residents of the area already have ideas for the former base, including creating public recreational facilities such as a gym, an outdoor in-line hockey rink, athletic fields, community flower gardens, walking, jogging, biking and in-line skating paths, fishing, canoeing and picnic activities, and a public bowling alley and swimming pool.

Swartz said he would support some public facilities on the former base.

Weissenbach said even when the Army transfers the land to PenMar, residents should have a voice in what happens to the complex.

"It might be private property, but it doesn't mean the community doesn't have a right to question what comes in their back yard," Weissenbach said.

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