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PenMar backs plan for Ritchie

November 09, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - The PenMar Development Corp. on Monday backed a development plan that would turn the mostly vacant former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade into a large residential and business center.

The PenMar board voted 8-0 to approve a "development agreement," which board Chairman George Griffin defined as a legal document that ensures the enforcement of the development plan submitted by Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md.

PenMar has agreed to sell the approximately 630-acre base to COPT for $9 million. That price would drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over several years. Ultimately, COPT envisions creating 4,541 jobs once the redevelopment is completed over a 10- to 20-year period.

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By approving the development agreement, Griffin said the PenMar board supported COPT's development plan.

Griffin said he expects COPT to sign the development agreement in the near future.

The PenMar board did not discuss the contents of the development agreement or the development plan in open session at the 7:30 a.m. meeting.

PenMar officials said the development agreement is confidential until it is signed by COPT.

COPT's development plan calls for ripping down some buildings and constructing others. Eventually, the base would contain 673 dwelling units, including 90 single-family homes, 166 town houses, 152 garden apartments and other types of housing.

The base has approximately 582 acres of developable land, COPT President and Chief Operating Officer Randall M. Griffin said in September.

The plan would designate 67 acres for historic and mixed use, 20.4 acres for community use, 22.1 acres for general business, 57.3 acres for restricted businesses - an area off limits to the public, 134.8 acres for residential use and 257 acres for forest preservation. The base's two lakes, totaling 24.2 acres, would be maintained, Griffin has said.

COPT has projected it will take more than $255.7 million to revitalize the base into a business center and residential community.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former base, which the Army shut down in 1998. The Army must first transfer the land to PenMar before PenMar can sell it, but that conveyance is on hold because of a U.S. Court of Appeals-issued injunction barring the move.

The Department of Justice has asked the court to lift the injunction, PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook said in a phone interview last week.

Rook said during the meeting Monday that it's possible the injunction could be lifted at any time.

PenMar board members Ron Sulchek and William J. Wivell, who were at conferences Monday and did not attend the meeting, questioned the board's backing of the development plan.

Sulchek said by phone Monday that there wasn't anything in the development plan he couldn't support. But he said he didn't think PenMar should sell the base without first knowing the market value of the property.

"I don't know that we're getting a fair price, because there's no appraisal," Sulchek said.

He said the PenMar board didn't take steps to ensure future oversight of the base's development or first decide whether land within the base should be set aside for a public school or who will pay for a proposed community center.

COPT has estimated the center would cost $2.99 million.

Wivell said by phone Monday that he thought COPT should pay for at least half of the community center and then set up an endowment for the center.

He said he thought the number and type of housing COPT has proposed for the base is excessive. Like Sulchek, he said he also thought PenMar should address the possibility of the developer setting aside land for a possible school.

The Washington County Planning Commission last month discussed such a proposal that would apply to developers of large residential developments.

"I think we need to be prepared, especially in that area," Wivell said.

How they voted


The PenMar Development Corp. board of directors voted 8-0 on Monday to approve a development agreement with Corporate Office Properties Trust of Columbia, Md., regarding the revitalization of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

Yes: George Griffin, Peggy Bushey, John Hershey, William Mahr, Elizabeth Morgan, Jack Simpson, George Stone, Philip Ulzheimer

Absent: Ron Sulchek, William J. Wivell, Mike Zampelli

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