Questions still abound at Fort Ritchie

July 25, 2004|by Karl Weissenbach

In an article pertaining to COPT and PenMar Development Corp. negotiations regarding the proposed sale of Fort Ritchie, the executive director asserts that the community will be pleased with the agreement. That may very well be the case and we certainly hope and expect the "negotiations team" to get the best deal possible for Washington County taxpayers and the Cascade community.

However, that does not mean that the Cascade Committee isn't going to carefully scrutinize both the lease and sale agreements, along with any development plan put forward by COPT. Further, it doesn't mean that we won't continue to ask tough, fair and relevant questions about any agreement so as to ensure that the Cascade community gets the best deal possible.

We realize that some of our pointed questions and comments are not sitting well with some PMDC officials and others who apparently resent our "meddling," "nagging," "complaining," "lecturing," etc. What these officials fail to understand is that the Cascade Committee is the only organization that has devoted considerable time, money and energy to study base-closure legislation, regulations and guidelines in order to ensure that Cascade and Washington County obtain the best deal from any sale or selection of a master developer.


Having studied economic redevelopment issues at other BRAC sites around the country, we have formulated positions that we believe can be applied to redeveloping Fort Ritchie. At the very least, our study of other base closings has shown us what works and what doesn't work in creating a planned (mixed use) community at Fort Ritchie that has job creation, residential housing, recreation, and retail components. Until the dust is settled, we will continue to ask unpopular questions of our LRA, county commissioners, state and federal officials and consult with recognized experts who follow BRAC issues. Remember, our agenda is very simple: Get the best deal for Cascade and Washington County residents. We may never again have this opportunity to persuade appropriate officials to do the right thing on our behalf.

Here are examples of questions and concerns that we and others have raised about the on-going PenMar/COPT negotiations that could result in the sale of Fort Ritchie to a Baltimore-area firm:

- According to early news accounts, the impression was given that there was an "immediate need" to bring in COPT since they would create up to 1,000 jobs. Are these jobs being transferred from the Washington-Baltimore region or will they be high paying "new" jobs for Cascade jobs? How will PMDC verify the jobs claim made by COPT or any other potential suitor?

- Why does Rich Rook, PenMar's executive director, believe it was OK for him to intentionally try to keep PenMar's recent special meeting concerning the COPT agreement secret from the public?

- Why did PMDC officials try to prevent the public from making a five-minute statement during the open session of the "secret" meeting after it was crashed by local citizens?

- Why did the PenMar board not follow through with the decision it reached by consensus (at its strategic planning meeting in February) to issue RFQs (requests for qualifications) to the development community after negotiations with Lerner Enterprises broke down?

- When PenMar recently decided, for the first time ever, to pursue an outright sale of the entire base to a private sector firm, why was COPT the only firm notified of that opportunity, and why was the public and other development companies not informed of PenMar's sea change in marketing strategy?

- How was COPT notified of the purchase opportunity at Fort Ritchie and how was it preselected to be the purchaser of Fort Ritchie?

- Why did the board decide to deal only with COPT and refuse to solicit bids/proposals from other firms?

- Is it legal for a Local Redevelopment Authority (PenMar) to receive an entire military base comprising 600 acres of surplus federal property free of charge under a "no-cost economic development conveyance" and then "flip" the entire base to a single private sector firm without any public notice and without informing any other firms that such a purchase opportunity exists, and without soliciting competitive bids from other potential purchasers?

- Will any future master developer/buyer be required to adhere to public access provisions outlined in the 1997 Fort Ritchie Comprehensive Redevelopment Plan?

- Will the 1997 Programmatic Agreement (see our Web site) be tampered with to allow development of the parade fields?

- Is PenMar proposing to sell the gymnasium, parade fields, sports fields and lakes to COPT? If so, will the public have the right to use these facilities after the sale?

- What will happen to current and future residential housing? Will there be sufficient housing to ensure the continued operation of Cascade Elementary Scool?

- Will IMI be an "end user" in any redevelopment plan put forward by COPT? What measures are being taken by the executive director, state and county officials to retain International Masonry Instutute, the longest and most stable tenant at Fort Ritchie?

- Will any money from the "sale" of Fort Ritchie go into community projects such as the creation of a possible youth center and/or community center, refurbishing the gym, bowling alley, etc. at Fort Ritchie?

Karl Weissenbach is director of the Cascade Committee.

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