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Activities center is considered at Ritchie

August 23, 2005|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE

tarar@herald-mail.com

If a Columbia, Md., developer has its way, a $3.28 million public facility for sports, fitness and other activities will be built at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

The PenMar Development Corp. would pay most of the center's construction costs under the developer's vision for the property.

Randall M. Griffin, CEO and president of Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), asked PenMar on Monday to pitch in $2 million toward the construction of the facility.

COPT has agreed to buy the former base from PenMar for $9 million. The price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over nine years.

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Because PenMar is required by law to use proceeds from the sale on base improvements, Griffin suggested using some of the sale money on the community center would be appropriate.

"Basically, we're giving them the money," Griffin said.

Griffin presented COPT's redevelopment plan for the 638-acre property to PenMar officials Monday morning at the base.

PenMar board Chairman George G. B. Griffin said the board supported the idea of a community center but still must discuss whether to spend money on it.

The proposed 18,000-square-foot community center would be built on 20.4 acres.

Randall M. Griffin said COPT would contribute an initial $500,000 toward the center's operating expenses. That contribution and the donation of land for the facility is about equal to a $2 million contribution from PenMar, he said.

Commercial tenants of the base would be charged 10 to 12 cents per square foot toward operating expenses.

Operating expenses would be about $170,000 a year, according to the plan.

COPT's $255.7 million redevelopment plan aims to turn the base into a residential and commercial center over approximately 20 years. The developer estimates 4,541 jobs would be created over that time.

Its tenants likely would include the federal government and other major employers, Randall M. Griffin has said. The plan for the residential area proposes a mix of housing, consisting of 673 dwelling units.

Elizabeth Morgan, superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, said a residential development of that size would have an affect on school enrollment.

Morgan, also a PenMar board member, said she thought COPT's redevelopment plan should address that concern, possibly by setting land aside at the base for a school.

"That would be a very, very large residential development," Morgan said.

Randall M. Griffin said Cascade Elementary School was "under-utilized" and that maybe Washington County should consider using building fees to upgrade the school to accommodate growth.

"The county needs to step up and recognize that" and prepare accordingly, he said.

He also said the residential area would be built over a 15-year period, which would stagger any enrollment growth.

The base's sale has been on hold because of a federal court injunction preventing PenMar from taking ownership of the land. The injunction blocks the Army from conveying the land to PenMar. Should the injunction be lifted, COPT and PenMar could complete the sale.

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