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Next steps on Fort Ritchie

April 05, 2004

Now that the House Economic Matters Committee has killed a proposal to restructure the board of the PenMar Development Corp., it's time to start focusing on the next steps needed to bring jobs back to the former Fort Ritchie Army base.

The first step is to get both elected officials and the business community behind the redevelopment plan. Good businesses won't be drawn to a county where the leaders are squabbling over which direction to take, and who should lead.

The one point all should be able to agree on is supporting legislation that would convey property to the International Masonry Institute. IMI is the old base's best tenant, and its directors need some sign that the county is working hard to get them what they need.

The county also needs to conclude negotiations with Lerner Enterprises, a Bethesda-based development company which wants to be the old fort's "master developer."

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Lerner officials were the ones who advised the PenMar board to open up the facility to community activities, so that it would look more like a vital facility than an abandoned Army base when clients came to call. That isn't an endorsement of Lerner's proposal, because we're unaware of all that Lerner is offering or just what the county is seeking. But everything we've ever read about development suggests that people want to go where people already are.

And when it comes to involving the public, we believe it's time for the PenMar board to do as the county commissioners have done for years and commit to a regular schedule - quarterly, perhaps - of meetings held at a time convenient for the public to attend.

Not every detail of what's going on can be discussed with the public, but taxpaying citizens deserve to know whatever can be shared without compromising prospective tenants' confidentiality.

Finally, when it's time to appoint new board members, let the county's Maryland General Assembly delegation have plenty of input. Its members meet lots of people, so it stands to reason they'd know some good candidates.

But once they're appointed, elected officials should stand by them, unless they're found guilty of stealing or worse. To ask citizens to volunteer their time for no pay and then not support them when the going gets rough is not acceptable. Let's see that it doesn't happen again.

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