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Washington County sends promising businesses running

April 30, 2012

Poor Fort Ritchie. Lawsuits, bombs, Agent Orange. It’s become the most depressing piece of real estate this side of Camden Yards.

(Quick diversion: In the “I Might Owe the Baltimore Orioles an Apology” category, I choose to take the offensive. They have been winning ever since I wrote they are a bunch of worthless, sniveling coyotes. So, for a small retainer, I might be persuaded to keep writing these Orioles death-watch pieces if it spells their continued success. But I will withhold judgment until after their upcoming three-game rematch with the Yankees.)

But back to Ritchie, if we must.

I don’t care what any public or company official says, it appears as if Corporate Office Properties Trust is about to perform what in Civil War terminology is known as a Grand Skedaddle.

Mark my words, one day the doorbell is going to ring at PenMar Development Corp., and they’re gonna find a basket on the doorstep containing 600 of the finest acres it’s ever been a defoliant’s pleasure to contaminate. They’ll look up just in time to see COPT’s Mercedes fishtailing out of the driveway, spraying gravel the length of the Castle.

And, voila, we’ll be right back where we started when the Army base closed going on two decades ago. No business, no jobs, no tax revenue, no leads. I tell you, that old Masonry Institute is looking better every day — it was the only establishment that made a go of the place, and we ran them off because there’s nothing sexy about mortar.

That’s been the problem from day one, really. Everything about this property screams recreation: Lakes, golf course, club, picnic pavilions, old stone buildings, remote location, drop-dead gorgeous setting.

But we seem bound and determined to stuff industry down its throat, which has always seemed curious to me, since three months out of the year, you can barely get there by Jeep.

This is so Washington County, isn’t it? Hand us a filet and we’ll grind it into hamburger. If we have a historic roundhouse, we’ll bulldoze it. If a Civil War medicine museum wants to locate here, we’ll chase it away to Frederick, where it will flourish. If we have a governor and a comptroller basically trying to hand us a new stadium, we’ll suspect a trick.

I give credit to the airlines because they seem to have figured us out. Promise air service, accept a fat check from the county in exchange for that promise, run a few flights and then vamoose. Then, return in a year or two and run the same scam all over again.

We run off the businesses that want to be here. We pay businesses that don’t want to be here to come anyway. Then we can’t understand when they take our lunch money. Sure, just give someone the old MELP plant for “redevelopment.” They would never sell off all the machinery in it, abandon the building and skip town. Would they?

You have to feel for COPT though, which actually tried in good faith before falling to the Washington County curse of negative momentum. No one warned them that our people and our governments are so uncomfortable with success that we try to block it at every turn. Now, they’re like the haunted house that, given a choice of living with “The Simpsons” or destroying itself, chose the latter. If they do give the property back, it will be hard to argue with their thought process.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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