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Judge dismisses suit over sale of Fort Ritchie

September 01, 2006|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by two Cascade property owners over the pending sale of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base to a Columbia, Md. developer.

Jim Lemon and Robin Biser filed the suit in May 2005 against the Army, PenMar Development Corp. and Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled Aug. 25 that Lemon and Biser lacked standing to bring the suit.

Biser said Thursday she would like to appeal the decision. She said the judge ruled on standing, not the merits of the case, and that she and Lemon are discussing their options.

"It wasn't a shock, really," Biser said. "But it's not over 'til the fat lady sings."

Lemon and Biser sued in the hope of averting "environmental damage and loss of valuable historic buildings that (they) contend will occur if the planned development of the base land proceeds," according to Lamberth's ruling.

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Lamberth said the court was sensitive to the fear of possible destruction of historic sites. His ruling should not be read as sanctioning the violation of any agreements in place intended to preserve the fort's historic areas, he wrote.

"I was pleased with the judge's decision, which I think was the right decision," George Griffin, president of the PenMar board of directors, said Thursday.

Griffin, however, said the legal troubles affecting the sale are ongoing.

An injunction granted as a result of another suit is preventing the Army from transferring the base to PenMar.

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 base from PenMar and turn it into a residential and commercial center.

Biser said she was disappointed, but not discouraged by the judge's ruling.

"It's a process, and this is only one step," Biser said. "We don't see any reason to drop the ball at this stage in the game."

The Maryland National Guard built the base, called Camp Ritchie, in the 1920s. It was built as an encampment to house the 58th Brigade Headquarters and the 1st and 5th Infantry Regiments.

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

Much of the property is known by the Maryland Historical Trust as the "Camp Ritchie Historic District."

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