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Housing overhaul due at APG

The Baltimore Sun

Like many Army posts around the country, Aberdeen Proving Ground is getting out of the housing business and turning over demolition, renovation, construction and maintenance to a private contractor.

Picerne Military Housing, a Rhode Island-based developer, has signed a 50-year lease to manage the more than 1,000 homes at the Harford County base, a number that will surely diminish, company officials said.

The elegant stone residences with commanding views of the Chesapeake Bay will be restored, and the smaller, outdated houses that have suffered from neglect will be razed. The company envisions an entirely new neighborhood, with as many as 500 new homes clustered around a community center with a pool, recreational facilities and other amenities.

The homes will meet the needs and wishes of today's military families, said Bill Mulvey, Picerne's vice president for communications.

"The plan is to demolish the old, renovate the historic and build new," he said.

The post has 1,006 homes on its sprawling grounds, many of them long vacant and in need of all manner of repairs - from replacing roofs to installing new faucets, said George Mercer, spokesman for APG.

"These homes are acceptable, but not up to today's standards," Mercer said. "Families are larger and require more space, more bedrooms and bathrooms. The tendency is to move off base for housing. So, we have a lot of houses, but not a lot of soldiers in them."

It will be the developer's job to determine which houses are suitable living quarters and which will be razed, he said.

"The contract says Picerne will identify the housing needs here and make sure the houses that we keep are the best," Mercer said. "This gets APG out of the housing business and eliminates all the post's maintenance chores."

Post officials also plan to eliminate within a year a 25-year-old mobile home park. The 70-lot facility holds about 40 trailers that are owned by the families living there.

Many of the trailers have changed ownership several times and are too old to meet standards for most mobile home parks. While the Army realizes owners will have difficulty relocating or selling the homes, officials are adamant about dissolving the park, Mercer said.

"APG has no need for mobile homes," Mercer said. "We are trying to figure out a way that this will not be burdensome. But the owners will have to move them at their own expense from the post by August 2009."

Picerne, which will form a partnership with garrison staff, expects to begin its work at APG within a year. First, the company must draft a community development and management plan that ultimately would have to win congressional approval, Mulvey said. The plan would include a housing market analysis and suggestions from APG families.

The post is one of the last in the country to be privatized as the result of the Army's Residential Communities Initiative that began more than a decade ago. Picerne, which has been in the home- management business for more than 80 years, has participated in seven housing partnerships with the Army nationwide and now oversees about 20,000 homes in six states.

Since 2002, Picerne has built six communities at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, with 600 new homes and three neighborhood centers.

"We are old hands at this, and APG likes that," Mulvey said.

The Army does not guarantee personnel post housing, and experience shows that about 25 percent of the post families choose to live on base. Others settle into housing nearby.

APG likely will require only one large neighborhood, he said. Families would pay Picerne their standard housing allowance - a monthly stipend the military provides - to lease the homes.

"There is no intent to provide houses for each military family," Mulvey said. "The idea is to prevent the local community from being overwhelmed and to keep off-post housing demand stable. But we do want to build on the base homes that are as good as what is available off post."

As APG grows in the next few years by as many as 10,000 jobs, because of the nationwide military base expansion known as BRAC, many of the current agencies at the base will relocate.

By 2010, there will be fewer soldiers on the base but many more contractors on its periphery, Mercer said.

"We are turning all housing over to a developer, who will assure that there is an appropriate number of houses for the appropriate number of people," he said.

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