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PenMar has deal for Ritchie

July 28, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Columbia, Md., company will pay the PenMar Development Corp. $9 million for the 638-acre former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, some Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday.

If the company, Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), creates 1,400 jobs over a certain number of years, the price will be reduced to $5 million, County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

He said he wasn't sure how many years COPT will have to create those jobs.

COPT also must pay for $7.5 million in upgrades to roads, the sewer system and other improvements, according to the sales agreement, Snook said.

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"It's not a perfect agreement, but I think it comes a long way from where we were years ago," Snook said.

Snook and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said COPT would have to abide by the county's building and development regulations, so it's likely the company will end up spending more than $7.5 million on base improvements.

PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook did not return two phone calls Tuesday and PenMar board Chairman George Griffin declined to discuss the sales contract.

The commissioners reviewed the contract with PenMar last week. The majority of the commissioners supported the contract, Snook said.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell, who also is a PenMar board member, and Commissioner John C. Munson have said they opposed the sales agreement.

PenMar signed the agreement with COPT on Monday. COPT cannot take ownership of the land until the Army transfers the property to PenMar.

Rook said Monday he hoped that would happen in 90 days.

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

According to the contract, COPT will have 90 days to look for business tenants for the base.

If COPT or PenMar aren't satisfied with the development efforts during that time, Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said it's possible the sale would not go through.

"I think we'll be fine," Nipps said.

Snook, Nipps and Commissioner James F. Kercheval said they were satisfied with the selling price and are looking forward to the base being developed. There has been little redevelopment activity at the base since it closed, they said.

"It gets the property back on the tax rolls and deals with job creation," Snook said of the agreement.

"The base has been sitting there since it closed," Nipps said. "No tax dollars have been coming in from that property."

Wivell said Monday he thought PenMar should have partnered with a master developer to redevelop the property, rather than selling it outright.

He also said the price COPT will pay for the base basically was a giveaway.

The property contains a mix of office space, buildings, residential units, two lakes and open space. PenMar anticpates 330 to 380 acres of the 638-acre property to be developable, according to a written statement.

Munson said Tuesday he wasn't opposed to selling the base, but he didn't agree with the sale price. He said he thought the property should have been sold for at least $25 million.

"I think it's way undervalued," Munson said. "It's a giveaway is what it amounts to."

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