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Appraisal wasn't required, but a good idea, A.G. says

August 25, 2005

The Maryland Attorney General's office last week said that the Pen Mar Development Corp. (PMDC) wasn't required to get an appraisal before it sold the old Fort Ritchie Army base.

But before PMDC officials pat themselves on the back, they should consider something else said in the state's 20-page letter.

Although the legislation that created PMDC charged the redevelopment agency with replacing jobs and not with getting the best price for the fort, the attorney general's letter said that if the current deal falls through, an appraisal wouldn't be a bad idea.

That should happen, the letter said, "in order to assure that any monetary price is a fair reflection of the value of the property and of the development benefits offered by the purchaser."

In addition, the letter said, armed with reliable information on the market value of the property, PMDC could better bargain with any potential purchaser.

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In other words, an appraisal wasn't required, but it would have been a good idea.

But as the letter from the attorney general's office also recognizes, a deal has been made by PMDC.

And, barring a withdrawal by the would-be purchaser, Corporate Office Properties Trust of Columbia, Md., it's too late to renegotiate now.

For example, although the county government expected to get the old Army base's water system at no cost, that wasn't how the deal was structured. COPT officials say they will turn the system over, but not if they have to pay full allocation fees.

On Monday, COPT officials and Washington County Commissioner William Wivell argued over whether the Economic Development Conveyance submitted to the U.S. Army in 1999 meant that the county would get the water system for free.

But the sale agreement signed in July 2004 didn't mention the water system and COPT officials don't want to give it away without getting something in return.

What COPT officials say they want in exchange for the system is for the county to waive allocation fees COPT would ordinarily pay to hook up to the system.

As we have said previously, any attempt by PMDC to renege on this deal - or any part of it - would likely bring another lawsuit.

Negotiate, yes, on the amount of the fee that will be forgiven. But do so realizing that the negotiation is only necessary because the sales agreement didn't mention the water system. Because of that, COPT has the upper hand, and angry words aren't likely to win an agreement favorable to the county.

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