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Nonprofits to support lawsuit in PenMar land deal

January 30, 2007|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE - Two Cascade property owners who are challenging in court a developer's plans for the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base have received the backing of two national nonprofit groups.

National Trust for Historic Preservation and Natural Resources Defense Council earlier this month asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to lend its assistance in the matter.

The groups say they can provide expertise on national environmental and historic preservation case law in the appeal filed by Jim Lemon and Robin Biser.

Lemon and Biser appealed after losing their suit against the Army, PenMar Development Corp. and Columbia, Md., developer Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT).

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They originally sought to block the transfer of the former base from the Army to PenMar 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 court records.

A federal judge ruled in August that Lemon and Biser lacked standing to bring the suit, and they appealed.

The Army made the transfer to PenMar, which promptly sold most of the property to COPT, which plans to turn the base into a residential and commercial center.

The Army has asked the appeals court to uphold the district court's decision.

Lemon, Biser, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Natural Resources Defense Council contend the district court judge erred in the decision. The defense council is a national nonprofit environmental advocacy organization with a goal of protecting "natural resources and redress violations of federal environmental laws," according to a court document. The National Trust was chartered by Congress in 1949 to "further the historic preservation policy of the U.S., and to facilitate public participation in the preservation of the nation's heritage," according to a court document.

The nonprofit groups claim, in part, that the judge overlooked "an entire body of case law" directly relevant to the case, and the groups believe Lemon and Biser have standing in the matter.

"Everybody seems to think the case is over," Biser said by phone Monday. "The sale is a done deal, but what's not a done deal is the (development) plan."

Randall M. Griffin, COPT president and chief executive officer, said by phone Monday that COPT intends to preserve the base's historical features. In particular, it plans to retain 64 of 68 historic buildings on the property, he said.

"We are preserving the integrity of the (base's) historic nature," Griffin said.

COPT intends to abide by the court's ruling, he said. He doesn't think the appeal will affect the property's development.

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

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