Bill would speed Fort Ritchie land swap

June 27, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

Maryland's two U.S. senators are sponsoring legislation that, if approved, would speed up the transfer of some of the property at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base to the PenMar Development Corporation but PenMar officials want the legislation to include a larger section of land.

A February court decision is going to delay the Army's transfer of part of the former Army base by at least eight months and possibly as long as two years, further postponing base redevelopment , Richard Rook, PenMar executive director, said Thursday.

In late May U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both D-Md., cosponsored legislation that would allow the transfer of about 25 acres being used by the Annapolis-based International Masonry Institute for masonry job training programs. The company has said it wants to buy the land so it can expand its operations.


Rook and PenMar Board Member William J. Wivell, also a Washington County Commissioner, said it would make more sense for the land transfer process, if it was going to be addressed through legislation, to allow at least the transfer of the first phase of land, or 236 acres.

Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett Jr., R-Md, said Thursday Bartlett has talked to PenMar officials and Cascade residents about the issue but wants to hear from Sarbanes and Mikulski before taking a position. His concern is what approach would be best for creating jobs at the base, Wright said.

PenMar and Army officials had planned a May 20, 2002, ceremony at which the Army was to sign a deed transferring 236 acres to PenMar. But the property transfer was put on hold after then-tenant Role Models America Inc. filed for bankruptcy earlier that month.

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 ruled in favor of a Role Models filing and granted 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 charge because it was an educational facility.

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

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