VA finalizes lease with Fort Howard Development
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 14:12

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently finalized its lease agreement with Fort Howard Development LLC. file photo

Baltimore County PUD process is next step for project

 by Ben Boehl

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced last week that it has finalized a lease with Fort Howard Development, LLC, allowing the company to develop the former Fort Howard site.
    The VA signed an initial lease with Fort Howard Development in December 2011. VA spokeswoman Rosa Scalia  said  the VA and the developer have been working on the details over the last 30 months.
    “Since the signing of the lease, VA and Fort Howard Development have been busy preparing environmental impact studies, reviewing design plans for a new VA outpatient clinic at Fort Howard, holding meetings with officials of the State Historic Preservation Office, and negotiating a final development plan for the campus,” Scalia said, adding that the finalization of the lease will allow Fort Howard Development to submit a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to Baltimore County for review — potentially speeding up the approval process for the project.
    “Once completed, the Fort Howard campus will be a national model for serving the housing needs of America’s veterans. The community will offer housing options for veterans at various price points, including active adult living, assisted living and skilled nursing care,” Scalia said. “Additionally, the community will feature 50 units of supportive housing for at-risk and formerly homeless veterans.”
    The VA also stated that the developer agreed to build a new state-of-the-art 10,320-square-foot outpatient clinic on the Fort Howard campus, but there was no information in the release as to how many units the project will include.
    On that topic, both Scalia and  Paul Macpherson of the VA Office of Asset Enterprise Management referred The Eagle to Tim Munshell of Fort Howard Development.
    Munshell did not reply to phone calls or e-mail requests seeking comment.
    According to Edward Bradley, deputy director of the VA Office Asset Enterprise Management, the lease will not be available to the public until Baltimore County begins reviewing plans for the project.
    The Save Fort Howard group has been adamantly opposed to the project, arguing that the 1,400-unit plan is too large for the area and that units will not be targeted toward veterans, as originally planned.
    Save Fort Howard member Russell Donnelly noted that there is one road in to and one road out of Fort Howard and argued that infrastructure in the area, including water and electric supply systems, could not handle the increase in population that could result from large-scale residential development at Fort Howard.
    R. David Edwards, chief of public and community relations for the VA, said the finalization of the lease moves the process into the hands of Baltimore County agencies. The details will be determined through the county’s PUD process, which includes community input meetings.
    “The traffic study will be reviewed as part of the PUD process, just like any other development in Baltimore County,” Edwards said.
    Councilman John Olszewski Sr. said that he is not aware if the PUD request has been officially filed by Fort Howard Development, but said he only supports a project that will be a continuing care facility for veterans and/or senior citizens 62 and older.
    Olszewski added that he does not believe that traffic will be an issue, as most aging veterans no longer drive.
    “Traffic [was not an issue] when the VA hospital was in its heyday,” he said.
    Donnelly and the opposition group said in January that they could not take legal action against the VA because no lease was yet in force. Although there is a now a lease, Donnelly did not specify whether he and his group were going to take any legal action. However, he did say that opposition to the plan will continue.
    “The challenge will be answered,” Donnelly said.
    He added that the VA has not been transparent and questioned whether the PUD is being pursued in order to get the project approved before County Councilman John Olszewski, Sr. leaves office in December.
    “It appears there are trying wrap this thing up by the end of the year,” Donnelly said.
    Olszewski responded that there is no rush to get the project completed.
    “It’s not about me getting it done. It’s about getting it done right for our veterans,” Olszewski said. “We owe that to our veterans.”

Eagle staffer John G. Bailey also contributed to this report.