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Speakers divided on fort's future

September 23, 2005|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE

tarar@herald-mail.com

Cascade resident Robin Biser urged residents who packed Lakeside Hall at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base Thursday night to be wary of the pending sale of the property to a Columbia, Md., developer.

She questioned whether the plan to develop the base would negatively affect roads, schools and the quality of life in the Cascade area.

But Jim Muller of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., said it was time to "get moving on."

"This fort is sitting here and it's wasting away," Muller said. "It's time we stand up for our corner of the county and let's get something done."

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Residents of Cascade and surrounding communities filled the hall at the base for a public hearing held by PenMar Development Corp.

Of the 17 people who spoke, about half favored the proposed redevelopment efforts at the base, while others expressed concerns about the fort's water system and development on its historic grounds.

Glenn Fishack, chair of the county's Water Quality Advisory Committee, insisted that the base's water system be given to the county to improve the quality of life for area residents.

The water system would go to the developer under a sales agreement between PenMar and the developer buying the approximately 630-acre base.

A previous PenMar document, however, stated that PenMar would turn the water system over to the county.

"If you give it away, you steal the quality of life from citizens of Washington County," Fishack said. "Please do not give our water away."

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the base, which the Army shut down in 1998. The transfer of the property from the Army to PenMar has been held up by legal problems, and a federal injunction is blocking the Army from conveying the base to PenMar.

Thursday's hearing focused on the application PenMar submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The application includes the redevelopment plan for the base.

PenMar was required in a federal court ruling in May to submit the application to HUD to clear up "procedural defects" in the base's disposal process.

PenMar hopes that by submitting the application to HUD it will help convince a federal court to lift the injunction.

Once the land is transferred to PenMar, it plans to sell the land to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT). COPT plans to turn the base into a residential and business center with 673 housing units and more than 4,500 jobs.

Bill Hofmann, the base's environmental coordinator, said he supported the redevelopment plan.

"I'm here to endorse it. I'm here to encourage it," said Hofmann, of Waynesboro. "I'm here to encourage everybody in this room to move the process forward."

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