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PenMar, COPT in negotiations on former Fort Ritchie base, but no deal yet

May 14, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

The board of PenMar Development Corp. and Corporate Office Properties Trust emerged from an hourlong executive session on what were termed “contract negotiations” Monday morning, but took no action when the meeting reconvened.

In April, Washington County Commissioner John F. Barr said PenMar and Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) have been in discussions regarding options for the land at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base that COPT bought in a $9 million agreement in 2006. Transferring the approximately 600 acres back to PenMar was one of those options, he told The Herald-Mail last month.

“We are working positively with COPT to redevelop this property,” PenMar Chairman Sam Cool said at the end of Monday’s meeting. He said the parties were in “contract negotiations,” but he did not elaborate.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., weighed in on the subject Monday when he spoke with the editorial board of The Herald-Mail.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed that the private contract looks like it failed and it may revert back to the quasi-governmental entity,” Cardin said.

However, the federal government remains committed to environmental restoration at the site and Cardin wants to see control of redevelopment remain in PenMar’s hands to “figure out a partnership that gives us the job creation we want.”

The former base was closed in 1998 by an earlier vote of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The U.S. Army later transferred ownership of the property to PenMar, the local redevelopment authority, which then immediately transferred it to COPT, PenMar Executive Director Dori Nipps said Monday.

COPT planned to add 1.7 million square feet of office space and build hundreds of homes on the former fort, but those plans have been thwarted by a lawsuit filed in 2005 by area property owners Jim Lemon and Robin Biser, which resulted in a federal judge issuing a stop work order in November 2009, Nipps said.

Lemon and Biser alleged in the suit that COPT’s redevelopment plan exceeded the scope of scenarios envisioned in its 1998 environmental impact study, as well as historical and water-related issues.

“It has been officially dismissed pending the Army performing a supplemental environmental impact study,” Nipps said when asked about the status of the suit.

“What it hurt was the Cascade community,” Nipps said of the lawsuit.

She added that other communities in Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland and in Franklin and Adams counties in Pennsylvania have been negatively affected by the hold the lawsuit has put on redevelopment.

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