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Deal in the works for former fort

July 15, 2004|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE

tarar@herald-mail.com

Representatives of the PenMar Development Corp. and a Columbia, Md., developer met Wednesday to negotiate a sales agreement for the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

"We're still working. There's nothing definite at this point," PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook said after the meeting.

Before the meeting, Rook said it was possible that PenMar and Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) might agree on a sale by the meeting's end.

"I hope so," Rook said.

If an agreement were reached for the 636-acre former base, it wouldn't be final until after the Washington County Commissioners review it.

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The Army first must transfer the land to PenMar before PenMar can sell the property.

Rook said the County Commissioners don't have the authority to approve or reject a sale, but that PenMar would allow the commissioners to review the contract before it's signed.

The commissioners appoint the PenMar board of directors.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

Last month, the PenMar board voted to allow its negotiating committee to complete the sales contract with COPT and authorized its executive committee to sign the agreement. The executive committee consists of the PenMar's chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and secretary.

The final contract would not need approval of the PenMar board unless substantial changes are made to the proposed sales agreement, Rook said.

"I think that's outrageous," said Karl Weissenbach, director of the Cascade Committee, a residents' group. "We won't be able to comment on it. Nobody will be able to comment on it. It'll be a done deal."

Weissenbach said he thinks the entire PenMar board should double-check the agreement before it is signed.

Cascade residents have criticized PenMar's negotiations with COPT, saying COPT's plans for the former base have been kept under wraps.

COPT develops and manages suburban office properties, according to its Web site. The company owns 131 office properties worth more than $4 billion, mainly in the Mid-Atlantic region.

COPT acquired $143 million worth of property in 2001 and $107 million worth of property in 2002, according to the Web site.

Rook said the interests of the Cascade community are being discussed in negotiations.

"The board is working very hard to consider the needs ... of the community in negotiations," Rook said. "We feel in our heart that the community will be happy and satisfied with the end agreement."

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