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COPT proposal would restrict access to heart of former fort

November 18, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - While future residents and commercial tenants of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base would go about their daily business on most of the property, a little more than 57 acres near the middle of the base likely would be fenced and off limits to the public.

Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), a Columbia, Md., developer that has agreed to buy the base in Cascade, has proposed restricting 57.3 acres to be used by federal defense contractors and U.S. government offices.

Peter Garver, director of development services for COPT, said Tuesday that a checkpoint would be set up at the entrance of the restricted area to prevent anyone who's unauthorized from entering the area.

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Lisa Wright, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said Wednesday that Bartlett is pursuing tenants for the restricted area.

"Congressman Bartlett believes that Fort Ritchie provides ... attributes that make it very attractive and useful to service the interests of the country and the county - specifically, that Fort Ritchie could provide a site for federal government agencies and activities," Wright said.

Last year, Bartlett said that representatives from the National Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the CIA and Congress were among those who talked about using the land for part of their operations or as a backup.

COPT representatives presented a $255 million development plan for the base to the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Garver told the commissioners that several people have looked at the base's post exchange and commissary buildings, which are in what would be the restricted area under COPT's plan.

The PenMar Development Corp. has agreed to sell the approximately 630-acre base to COPT for $9 million. That price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over several years.

COPT must also spend $7.5 million on base upgrades, such as improving the sewer system and roads.

COPT estimates that 4,541 jobs would be created over a 20-year period.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the property and restore jobs that were lost when the Army shut down the base in 1998.

"We're here because we think we can accomplish the objectives of PenMar," COPT representative Dwight S. Taylor told the County Commissioners Tuesday. "We have the money to be able to make these improvements that are necessary to development."

The Army must transfer the base to PenMar before PenMar can sell it. That transfer is on hold because of a court injunction barring the conveyance. PenMar officials have said the injunction can be lifted at any time.

COPT has more than 500 tenants among 136 suburban office properties mainly in the mid-Atlantic, including defense contractors, IBM, AT&T, Northrop Grumman and Comcast, according to information supplied by COPT.

Under COPT's plan for Fort Ritchie, the base would be a mix of residential, business and community uses and cost about $255 million to redevelop. The plan proposes 673 residential units on 134.8 acres, including town houses and single-family homes.

Approximately 20.4 acres would be set aside for a community center that would include a pool, weight room, game room, meeting areas and a dining area. Two soccer fields, two softball fields, two tennis courts and two basketball courts would be built outside next to the community center.

While COPT would build the sports fields, it hasn't agreed to pay any operating costs for the community area.

Taylor told the commissioners that COPT doesn't want the responsibility of operating the community center.

PenMar Chairman George Griffin said he thinks the community area should be set up to pay for itself through user fees and that a board should be created to monitor operations.

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