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Residents near Ritchie meet with developer

August 12, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Jack Simpson asked what many Cascade-area residents wanted to know Wednesday night.

Will the gates at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base be open to the public after the property is sold to a Columbia, Md., developer?

Most likely, according to Randall M. Griffin, president and chief operating officer of Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), the company that inked a deal with PenMar Development Corp. to buy the former base.

For the sale to go through, the Army first must transfer the 638-acre property to PenMar, and then PenMar and COPT must agree on a development plan for the former base.

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PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook said last month he hoped the land transfer from the Army would take place in 90 days.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop and restore jobs at Fort Ritchie, which the Army shut down in 1998.

COPT met with Cascade-area residents Wednesday night at a packed Lakeside Hall at the former base to get feedback on how residents would like the property to be redeveloped.

Simpson, a Cascade resident and recently appointed PenMar board member, said some in the community fear the property would be off-limits to the public.

"I really don't see that happening," Griffin said. "It may be a portion of the property ends up being somewhat like that, we don't know yet."

Griffin, who is no relation to PenMar Chairman George Griffin, said other properties developed by COPT have a mixture of residential and commercial buildings and recreational areas.

Brad Bennett of Cascade said residents enjoy jogging and biking around the former base and having picnics near lakes on the property. He said such activities should still be allowed after the sale.

He also said he'd like parts of the base to be open for youth activities, such as softball, basketball and football.

"There's a lot of need for helping the youth," Bennett said. "We don't have a whole lot around here."

Cascade resident Robin Biser said that when the property was an Army base, the military and residents had a good relationship.

"They were part of our community, and we were a part of theirs," she said.

Biser said she would like to see all of the fences around the base torn down to give the appearance that the property is "a part of Cascade."

COPT develops and manages suburban office properties. The company owns 132 office properties totaling more than 10.9 million rentable square feet.

The company has agreed to pay PenMar $9 million for the property, but the price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs in nine years. COPT also must spend $7.5 million to improve roads and sewer and make other upgrades.

Griffin said he thinks COPT will end up spending millions more in upgrades to the former base and that more than 1,400 jobs will be created.

"We're a very restless company," he said. "We push things. We're going to move very quickly on things, and the nice thing is we can write the check."

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