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Wivell: PenMar not needed if sale of base goes through

November 10, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - If the sale of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base goes through, two Washington County Commissioners want the PenMar Development Corp. to be dissolved.

County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell on Tuesday asked that the commissioners support legislation that would get rid of PenMar, provided the sale of the base is finalized.

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

"If the sale of Fort Ritchie goes through ... we need to be prepared for the abolishment of the PenMar board," said Wivell, who is treasurer of the PenMar board. "I don't see any need for that to exist."

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After Tuesday's meeting, Wivell said the entire PenMar agency should be done away with, not just the PenMar board.

"I don't think it would be necessary to have it or to staff it," Wivell said.

Wivell said there wouldn't be much left for PenMar to do if the sale of the base is finalized.

PenMar has agreed to sell the approximately 630-acre base in Cascade to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md., for $9 million. The price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates a certain number of jobs over several years.

The sale is dependent upon the Army transferring the land to PenMar, but the conveyance has been on hold because of a court injunction barring the transfer.

Munson agrees


Commissioner John C. Munson said during the meeting he agreed with Wivell's proposal.

Munson said he thought PenMar eventually would ask the county for money if it remains in place after the sale.

"I can foresee them wanting money from us ..." Munson said.

PenMar board Chairman George Griffin said he had no comment when reached by phone later Tuesday.

PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook said Tuesday night he thought PenMar will be needed for the next few years.

"PenMar has to continue to make sure that COPT does what they promised to do ..." Rook said.

Without PenMar, the county would have to pick up oversight duties, which could translate to an expense for the county.

"I don't see the legislation happening anytime this year, and probably not next year," Rook said. "It's not in the best interest of the county to vote to do that at this time."

The commissioners are considering adding Wivell's proposal to the list of legislative requests they take to the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly for the upcoming legislative session.

PenMar has been involved in a number of controversies since it was created, including various lawsuits and bickering among board members and the public. Last year, seven of 15 PenMar board members resigned, with some claiming infighting on the board and disagreements over redevelopment issues as the reasons.

In February, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, proposed legislation that would have removed PenMar's board members and replaced them with new members, but that proposal was scaled back after it drew public criticism.

The final proposal would have allowed the board members to serve out their terms, but lawmakers would have had the authority to fill five vacancies. The final proposal eventually was killed by the House Economic Matters Committee, whose members said they didn't want to get in the middle of a "family fight."

The commissioners also are considering asking in the upcoming General Assembly session for legislation that would give them the authority to lift the cap on the excise tax to bring in more money for school construction projects.

The excise tax is charged on a per-square-foot-basis on new construction. The maximum charge is $1 per square foot, and under the current legislation, the commissioners don't have the authority to charge a higher tax until after June 30, 2008.

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