“The economy and the ongoing pending lawsuits that have literally stopped everything at the former Fort Ritchie base has just made it very difficult to get anything accomplished up there,” Barr said.
Barr said he was aware there had been conversations and correspondence between Columbia, Md.-based Corporate Office Properties Trust, or COPT, and PenMar’s board regarding their options with the land, but that he didn’t know the current status of the situation.
COPT transferring the land back to PenMar was one of the options, said Barr, who used to be the commissioner’s liaison on the PenMar board.
COPT officials, including Chuck Fiala, the company’s senior vice president of government services, would not comment on whether there have been discussions between COPT and PenMar about transferring the land back to PenMar. Fiala said that as a public company, COPT must follow rules and regulations.
Asked Tuesday about the issue, PenMar Board President Sam Cool said: “We’re working with COPT to develop the property.”
He emphasized repeatedly that COPT owns the land and referred questions to them.
Cool said no final decision had been made about the land being transferred.
The former Army base, near Cascade, was closed in 1998. PenMar transferred the land to COPT in 2006 immediately after the Army transferred the land to PenMar, said Dori Nipps, executive director of PenMar Development Corp.
COPT planned a development to include 1.7 million square feet of office space, and 673 homes and apartments. But COPT has not been allowed to develop the land because of a 2005 lawsuit, which remains unresolved pending an environmental review.
COPT reduced the value of the land on its financial books to zero a year ago due to the inability to recover its $28 million investment in the property.
The company hasn’t been able to recover its investment because of economic times and the lawsuit, Bill Hofmann, COPT’s senior property and environmental services manager for the former Fort Ritchie property, said earlier this month.
At that time, Hofmann said the development was still COPT’s long-term plan for the property.
“There’s no change in what our plans are at this point,” Fiala said Tuesday.
“Our plans are on hold and have been on hold since 2009 with the legal injunction to delay development plans.” Fiala said. “We’re waiting for the Army to correct and revamp their environmental studies that are predicated on our ability to do anything.”
The Army hasn’t designated money for the environmental study, its environmental attorney David Howlett said earlier this month. The earliest the study could begin would be this summer, and that depends on the availability of funds, Howlett said.
What is ‘Plan B?’
Washington County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham, who is the commissioners’ liaison to PenMar’s board, said that shortly after she was appointed to the post in December 2010, she suggested PenMar have a “Plan B” in place in case something, such as COPT pulling out of the property, were to occur.
Callaham said Monday she couldn’t say whether anything has happened or whether the talk is just speculative. As a board member for PenMar, Callaham said there are things discussed that she has no authority to “put out publicly.”