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Army says no more analysis needed for base proposal

January 31, 2006|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE

tarar@herald-mail.com

The U.S. Army has decided a Columbia, Md., developer's plan to revitalize the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base will not have a significant environmental impact on the area and requires no additional environmental evaluation.

The decision contradicts an argument made in a lawsuit by two Cascade property owners that the development plan proposed by Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) would have a higher density than what was originally proposed for the base.

The suit, filed by Robin Biser and Jim Lemon in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Army, PenMar Development Corp. and COPT, argues that COPT's plan proposes "excessive commercial building density," "excessive commercial employment" and "excessive residential housing."

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Biser and Lemon would like the Army to re-evaluate the environmental impact of COPT's plan on the community.

The Army's 2005 Record of Environmental Consideration, signed earlier this month, stated the proposed density in COPT's plan wasn't significantly different than the density proposed in a 1997 development plan and no further envirnomental analysis was necessary.

"This was a key point for PenMar," PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said Monday.

The proposed COPT plan includes 673 residential units on 134.8 acres, and 79.4 acres of commercial development.

The 1997 plan proposed three development options. The options were creating a vacation home development, a conference and training center or a high-technology office park, according to the Army's Record of Environmental Consideration.

"It is the Army's determination that there is no significant new information regarding the proposed action, the affected environment or the environmental consequences that require additional analysis," according to the decision.

Lemon said by phone Monday that he believes the Army's decision was inaccurate and that the federal government should complete an environmental impact statement for the COPT plan, which was completed for the 1997 plan.

"We flatly disagree with the Army's determination that an environmental impact statement is not required," Lemon said. "We think it is a requirement ... and that eventually a judge will require it."

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

COPT has agreed to buy the property from PenMar. The sale can't take place until the Army transfers the former base to PenMar. That transaction has been held up in federal court.

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