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Kill the PenMar bill

March 08, 2004

This week a committee of the Maryland General Assembly will consider legislation that would effectively toss out several members of the group charged with redeveloping the old Fort Ritchie Army base.

The legislation comes at a time when, after years of no progress, PenMar Development Corp. has drawn the interest of Lerner Enterprises, a major developer in the Washington. D.C., area.

(If you doubt this 50-year-old firm is a big deal, visit www.lernerenterprises.com and look at some of the 20 million square feet of office and commercial space it has developed.)

Prior to the arrival of the new members this legislation would eliminate, Lerner spent months waiting for negotiations to start.

During that time, a Lerner representative whom a PenMar member invited to a board meeting was escorted out before he could even say "hello" to the group. Now Lerner has made a public presentation and talks are under way.

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Will Lerner be the old fort's salvation, returning the thousands of jobs lost when the base closed? It's impossible to tell, because the negotiations are still going on.

What we can say is that this is the worst possible time for the delegation to question the competence of the people doing the negotiating. It's like a football coach going to his star running back on the day of the big game and saying, "You don't look like you're up to this."

Delegation members were silent when a previous PenMar board did the following:

  • Hired an executive director with no marketing experience, even though bringing in new tenants and jobs was supposed to be a top priority,

  • Barred local police from using the base shooting range, even though residents are concerned about security there,

  • Insisted it had no role in serving the community's recreational needs or even communicating with citizens, even though the federal base closure guidelines recommend involving local people as much as possible, and

  • Got involved in a silly legal dispute with a major tenant over placement of a couple of flag poles.


Now, finally, the delegation members are interested.

That's a good thing, but it would be better if their reasons for getting involved made sense. This seems to be about salving the bruised egos of the members who resigned - the "pillars of the community" Del. Chris Shank has referred to - because the newcomers insisted on trying something new, like taking Lerner's advice about making citizens partners in the redevelopment effort.

No doubt the former members are good people, but as we've said previously, sometimes on a team, the chemistry isn't right and things don't get accomplished.

That the county commissioners aren't backing the new members they appointed is shameful. We haven't seen any evidence that they're anything but dedicated volunteers.

Until evidence to the contrary is presented, The General Assembly should put this ill-considered bill in a drawer and forget it.

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