Washington County gets good news regarding Fort Ritchie appeal
Washington County has cleared a hurdle in its planned sale of much of the former Fort Ritchie property.
But whether it is the last hurdle isn't known.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in an opinion filed Thursday, affirmed a decision by a Washington County Circuit Court judge to dismiss Craig Mahrle's lawsuit challenging the county's sale of the property.
Mahrle's attorney, Edward Tolchin, said Monday that his client has up to 45 days to appeal the decision if he chooses to do so.
Mahrle, of Sabillasville, Md., did not return requests for comment.
Mahrle filed his initial lawsuit regarding the sale in April 2020. He claimed the county "materially changed" the sale contract's terms, including the legal description of the property, requiring the county re-advertise and it "failed and refused to do so."
“It is gratifying to see that a second court has found no basis for Mr. Mahrle’s obstruction of the Fort Ritchie conveyance," County Attorney Kirk Downey said in a written statement emailed by county spokeswoman Danielle Weaver. "The Court found that Mr. Mahrle had no standing to challenge the sales agreement and that the County’s advertising obligations of the proposed transfer of the Fort Ritchie property had been satisfied. We look forward to completing the transfer of the property as soon as possible.”
Cascade resident John W. Krumpotich, who has a contract to buy about 500 acres at the former Army base in Cascade for $1.85 million, said Monday he is "very happy for the county and ready to get moving."
"We really have a tremendous amount of business development that's going to be taking place up there. It's going to be very exciting," Krumpotich said.
Krumpotich has said he wants to revitalize the area with a mixed-use development, including residential and commercial.
On Monday, he said he didn't want to elaborate about his plans due to the ongoing litigation.
In November 2019, the county entered a sales contract with Krumpotich. The county updated that agreement in March 2020, during Krumpotich's feasibility period for the sale, and changed various responsibilities for infrastructure such as utilities, roads and dams at two lakes. Krumpotich agreed to a $137,500 increase in the sale price to $1.85 million.
During the public comment part of the March 3 meeting, Mahrle said the commissioners should entertain new offers for the property because the changes to the contract no longer make it an "as-is" sale. Mahrle then submitted a written offer for the site, which was for $1,525,000.
Mahrle's lawsuit contended that if all prospective buyers had known the county would continue to own and maintain the roads, lakes, dams and utilities, offers might have been modified or others might have made better offers than Krumpotich's.
A circuit court judge dismissed Mahrle's lawsuit last May, with Mahrle filing a notice of appeal in June.
The federal government shut down Fort Ritchie in 1998 as part of a Base Realignment and Closure process.
The county received $3.65 million from the now-dissolved PenMar Development Corp. when PenMar transferred the property to the county in late 2016.
That money has been exhausted, leaving the county to make budget adjustments to cover its costs to maintain the property in the northeastern corner of the county.
So far, about $200,000 in general fund revenue has been used to cover costs, according to an email from Weaver.
The estimated cost per month of owning the property is around $50,000 a month, which includes the county's contribution to the Fort Ritchie Community Center, according to county officials.
County officials recently approved a budget adjustment to provide $150,000 to cover estimated costs for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. That covers an estimated $25,000 a month because the community center has already been paid and some costs came in under budget.
A majority of county commissioners, in January, approved a sixth amendment to Krumpotich's contract to, again, extend the deadline for closing due to Mahrle's legal challenge. The latest deadline is either 45 days after the court case is resolved or July 31, whichever occurs first.
The county has already parted ways with part of the property at the former military base.
In November 2016, the county hired JG Business Link International as its master developer for Cascade Town Centre. That multi-use concept included residential, commercial, retail, educational and resort components.
JGBLI and the county attempted to secure investors for the redevelopment.
In 2017, the county gave 63 of the 591 acres to Cascade Town Centre Development LLC to kick-start the project. Cascade Town Centre Development LLC and JGBLI are part of the JG Group.
In June 2019, the county zoning board granted four variances related to Cascade Town Centre Development LLC's plans to build 36 townhouses on its property.