Building at former Army base is opposed

December 16, 2004|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE - Saying it wants to "maintain the integrity" of some historic land at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, a nonprofit Baltimore preservation group said Wednesday it plans to oppose any building on the historic property by a Columbia, Md., developer.

"I would say that we're probably opposed to compromising the historic integrity of the fort," said Joshua Phillips, director of preservation services for Preservation Maryland.

He said he anticipated sending a letter of support to the Cascade Committee, a local group that opposes building on the parade field, by the end of this week.


Phillips said he planned to discuss the historic land with Maryland Historical Trust on Wednesday.

Ultimately, it's up to Maryland Historical Trust to allow building on the property.

Areas of the base are known by the Maryland Historical Trust at the Camp Ritchie Historic District.

That district includes the approximately 30-acre parade field, at least 50 stone buildings and two lakes, a state preservation official said in July.

Representatives with Maryland Historical Trust did not return a phone call Wednesday.

Other local preservation groups also voiced concern about building on the parade field.

John F. Krowka, acting chairman and secretary of Washington County Historical Trust, said Wednesday the group hasn't yet taken an official position, but that it is concerned that part of the parade field would be developed.

The president of another Washington County group - Citizens for the Protection of Washington County (CPWC) - has similar concerns.

"Our members generally favor historic preservation," CPWC president Jim Laird said Wednesday. "I feel sure that many of us would be wanting the parade field preserved."

Cascade Committee Director Karl Weissenbach said he opposes any construction on the parade field.

The PenMar Development Corp. agreed in July to sell the 638-acre former base to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) for $9 million. That price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates a certain number of jobs over several years.

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

COPT's development plan includes turning the base, which dates to the 1920s, into a residential and business center, with some of that construction taking place on the parade field.

The PenMar board of directors endorsed COPT's development plan last month.

A previous PenMar board opposed building on the parade field and other open-space areas, as stated in the base's 1997 Comprehensive Reuse Plan.

"In addition to the parade ground, a series of open spaces at Fort Ritchie should be kept free of development," the 1997 plan states. "This 'Open Space Framework' maintains the integrity of the entire Fort Ritchie site."

"Such a holistic approach to the site ensures the retention of value for all development on the site and adds particular value to development parcels that border these open spaces," according to the 1997 plan.

According to that plan, the Maryland National Guard built the base, known then as Camp Ritchie, in the 1920s.

It was built as an encampment to house the 58th Brigade Headquarters and the 1st and 5th Infantry Regiments, according to the 1997 plan.

The Army leased the property from the state in 1942 to accommodate 3,000 troops during World War II, the plan states.

Several years later, the base served as a support facility for Site R, the underground Pentagon in nearby Pennsylvania.

From the 1970s, the fort took on a bigger role in performing communication and administrative missions for the Army, the 1997 plan states.

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