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Court ruling delaying fort's redevelopment

April 24, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A court decision will delay the Army's transfer of part of the former Fort Ritchie Army base by at least eight months and possibly as long as two years, further postponing redevelopment of the base, PenMar Development Corporation Executive Director Richard Rook said at a meeting at the base Wednesday.

It is difficult for PenMar to convince businesses to move to the base when it doesn't have title to the property due to the delays, Rook said to about 40 people at the meeting.

PenMar does not want to bring tenants to the base and then tell them, "we would love to have you here, but we are not sure when we can actually sell it to you," Rook said.

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During the meeting area residents, including George Drastal, asked if base redevelopment plans that envisioned high-tech companies moving there were overly optimistic.

Rook said he was more interested in dealing with present problems and planning for the future than talking about the past.

Joe Edwards, an Army retiree who lives on base property, said he is skeptical of PenMar's claim that it will attract companies to the base, saying, "industry won't come here."

Rook said the remoteness of the base could be just what some companies, including high-tech businesses, want.

PenMar and Army officials had planned to transfer part of the Fort Ritchie property in May 2002, but that was put on hold after Role Models America Inc. filed for bankruptcy on May 10, 2002.

When Role Models later withdrew its bankruptcy filing, PenMar thought the property would be transferred during the winter, PenMar officials said.

But in early February, the United States Court of Appeals surprised PenMar officials by ruling in favor of Role Models and granting an injunction blocking the planned land transfer.

Role Models said it should have been notified it was possible under federal law to rent base property at no cost because it was an educational facility.

A lower court denied Role Models' claim, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the way the Defense Department reached its decision to convey the base to PenMar violated legal requirements because an advertisement announcing the property's availability was faulty.

At some point in the near future, Rook said, PenMar must place a new newspaper advertisement saying it is taking applications for the property from groups wanting "to serve the needs of the homeless population and other interested parties." The prior advertisement did not include the words "and other interested parties."

The conveyance then is postponed while applications are filed and considered by the federal government and plans are adjusted accordingly, Rook said.

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