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Fort Ritchie redevelopment plan revised

August 26, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

CASCADE -- Amid a court-ordered environmental review, plans for Fort Ritchie's redevelopment have been revised to omit construction of office buildings on the historic parade ground and to reduce the estimated number of jobs more than 25 percent.

A 2004 plan estimated the redevelopment of the former U.S. Army base near Cascade would result in 4,500 jobs at its full development level, but a new plan completed in June reduces that number to 3,343, said William D. Hofmann, senior property and environmental services manager for the development company, Corporate Office Properties Trust.

Those changes and others are discussed in a draft "Record of Environmental Consideration" (REC), released this month by the Department of the Army Base Closure and Realignment Office.

The REC was prepared in response to a court order issued in November in a lawsuit brought by two area residents.

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In that suit, Jim Lemon and Robin Biser alleged that COPT's redevelopment plan called for a higher development intensity level than the scenarios the Army evaluated in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 1998, and Royce C. Lamberth, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ordered that document to be revisited.

Lamberth wrote that the Army must issue either a supplemental EIS, addressing significant impacts of the COPT plan beyond those already addressed, or make a convincing case that no EIS is needed. In the meantime, the redevelopment project was ordered to be put on hold.

The draft REC released this month by the Army argues that the environmental impacts of the latest plan are not significantly greater than those considered in the 1998 EIS, and therefore that no supplemental EIS is needed.

However, the draft states that the Army will allow 30 days for public comment and will make its decision on whether a supplemental EIS is needed after reviewing those comments.

Hofmann said the public comment period ends Sept. 19.

The REC and updated plan are available online, at the Fort Ritchie Community Center and at several local libraries, including Washington County Free Library.

Hofmann said the office buildings were removed from the parade ground because of "the understanding and realization of the significance of the historic parade field."

Lemon and Biser have pressed for the developer to honor a 1997 agreement that said the parade ground, where soldiers once marched and did exercises, would be maintained as open space.

In the latest plan, no buildings would be built on the parade ground, but it would be used for athletic fields.

Hofmann said the change in the estimated number of employees was largely due to the economic downturn and changes in the marketing strategy for reuse.

"The revised plan calls for the same amount of square footage of commercial development and the same number of residential facilities; just less people in them," he said.

COPT still plans to market the commercial space to high-tech and security companies, Hofmann said.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Lemon said he and Biser were pleased to see the two buildings to be constructed on the parade ground were removed from the plan, but they plan to submit comments arguing that other information in the draft REC is misleading or incorrect.

"When they discuss population, it doesn't include any of the residents who would live in any of the 673 residential units. The only thing they talk about is the employment, so that's one thing we'll be commenting on for sure," Lemon said.

The plaintiffs also remain concerned about the amount of impervious surface in the planned development and the fact that the fort's water system was transferred to the development company instead of being transferred to the county.

The judge found that those issues were "not ripe for review," but Lemon and Biser recently filed an appeal of that finding, he said.

Though it was not required, the Army did discuss both of those issues in its draft report. However, Lemon said he was not satisfied with those answers.

"If they take a hard look at both those issues, we wouldn't really have anything to appeal, but from the looks of what they've put in there right now, they're going to have to improve it" before the plaintiffs will be satisfied to end their legal battle, Lemon said.




On the Web:

The Record of Environmental Consideration and revised Fort Ritchie Master Plan are available at http://www.hqda.army.mil/acsimweb/brac/env_rec_review.htm.

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