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The Muslim Link

Howard County Approves Dar-us-Salaam Campus Plan PDF Print E-mail
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Community News - Community News
Written by Muslim Link Staff   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 08:52



On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, after over a year of engineering studies and public hearings, Howard County approved the Dar-us-Salaam Education and Community Campus plan.

The approval by Howard County Hearing Examier Michele LeFaivre allows Dar-us-Salaam to establish a campus on the 66-acre former Woodmont Academy site with 275,300 square feet of building space including a 56,000 square foot masjid, elementary, middle, and high schools, a daycare, two gymnasiums, and two indoor pools.

The decision comes after the Department of Planning and Zoning issued a Technical Staff Report earlier this year strongly recommending approval of Dar-us-Salaam’s campus plan, and three public hearings held in March and April where neighbors expressed their concerns about the impact Dar-us-Salaam’s proposed campus plan could have on the rural character of Western Howard County. The Hearing Examiner noted all the concerns including traffic, noise, and disturbances from lights and deliberated for over a month before issuing her decision.

The decision can be appealed within the next 30 days. If an appeal is filed, the Howard County Board of Appeals will rehear the case from the beginning and render a final decision, a process which would take 6-9 months. Neighbors represented by the Residents for the Resposible Development of Woodmont (RRDW), a coalition of home owners associations in Cooksville and the surrounding areas, stated that they will appeal the decision, employing a more aggressive strategy and that "business as usual is over." Members of RRDW suspect zoning decisions are being made in Dar-us-Salaam's favor in part due to a "shady fiscal relationship" between some elected officials, developers, and lawyers; RRDW's Facebook page says these relationships will be exposed during the hearings in front of the Board of Appeals.

"We are confident in the appropriateness of our long term campus development plan. Dar-us-Salaam did not receive any special exceptions, exemptions, or zoning changes to get a favorable decision from the hearing examiner. Our community only wants the same rights afforded to other churches and schools to build a place we can call home. We understand the neighbors' concerns regarding traffic, noise, and intensity, and we've worked with some of the top engineers and planners in the region to make sure our plan does not negatively impact the area in anyway," said a Dar-us-Salaam board member in a statement to the Muslim Link.

Prior to the start of public hearings in March of this year, Dar-us-Salaam and RRDW negotiated for several months in an attempt to reach agreeable terms on covenants -- a private contract between the two organizations enforceable in court.

RRDW offered to support Dar-us-Salaam's conditional use application rather than oppose it if Dar-us-Salaam agreed on certain limits related to the size of the buildings, the number of students and worshipers allowed on the campus at certain times, the use of outdoor lighting and amplification, and many other aspects of the campus operation. The agreement would be in place for 45 years and RRDW would have the right to enter the property at agreed upon times to monitor compliance. In the end, Dar-us-Salaam found the covenants too restrictive and the parties moved forward with the public hearings process.

Dar-us-Salaam greeted the conditional use approval decision with an email to the area Muslim community, recognizing and praising Allah for the positive development, and asking community members to continue working hard to raise the $10 million needed to purchase the property. About $2 million has been raised in cash and pledges to date. Settlement is set for this September.

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Comments (8)
  • David Yungmann  - Misinformation
    I am one of the principals of RRDW and am writing to correct some of the inaccurate information contained in this article. RRDW stated that it would support the Conditional Use application as long as it called for nothing more than what was approved for the Woodmont Academy 12 years ago. For the record, most of us believe the County approved far too much for the Woodmont Academy but many of us had only lived here a short time and were not organized enough as a community back then to stop it. Despite those feelings, we agreed to support this new application at the same levels as Woodmont in the interest of fairness to Dar-us-Salaam. Yet, this article and others before it insist on making it an issue of religion. With thousands of acres undeveloped throughout Western Howard Co, we fear not only this massive development but many more in the future if we don't push back now. That is the issue no matter how much Dar-us-Salaam tries to manipulate the religious issues for its own gain. Now for some facts. Woodmont was restricted to 180 students on the property after school. School was required to end at 3:15. Weekend activities were also limited to 180 people on the property. 50% of the students were required to ride buses. All of these restrictions were because the County was concerned about traffic, which has more than doubled on our roads in the past 12 years since that decision. It was a school only with a tiny chapel for a few dozen people, not a full scale religious campus asking to operate at close to 2,000 people over 100 days a year. Any claim by Dar-us-Salaam that it's proposed project does not go beyond what was approved for the Woodmont Academy is patently false. During our negotiations of the private covenants with Dar-us-Salaam, we agreed to longer operating hours, far more kids allowed for after school activities, no busing requirement, and full capacity on site every day of Ramadan, Eid prayer days and up to ten gatherings/fundraisers each year. We offered a shorter time frame than 45 years and never asked for the right to enter and inspect the property at any time. At the 11th hour of negotiations, your leaders told us they would not enter into any covenants, offering no specific reasons that could have possibly been addressed to avoid litigation. We believe we were led down the road working on an agreement they never intended to sign so we wouldn't prepare for the Conditional Use hearings. They preferred that we all waste money on legal fees to litigate the Conditional Use. This after RRDW advocated many of these concessions to the community on behalf of Dar-us-Salaam. That destroyed all trust and possibility that the community will welcome Dar-us-Salaam. I have searched our Facebook page and emails back to the week the Hearing Examiner decision was issued and can find no reference to exposing shady relationships during the Board of Appeals process. We, like many communities in Howard County, believe the developers are too cozy with elected officials and the process is stacked against us. Unfortunately we've also accepted that it has been this way for a long time at every level of government and it's not going to change now. We will argue against this project based on the legal and zoning issues on which our opposition is based. I expect that this response will end up getting deleted almost immediately since the Muslim Link "Staff" isn't about to allow Dar-us-Salaam members to read anything other that it's propaganda.
  • Lisa Wright
    Amen David!
  • Ilyas Gerhold  - Amen David!
    In his long dissertation, David commented that religion is not a factor. I strongly disagree with this. It is obvious that your comment is religious..."Amen David!" I grew up in Columbia and lived there for almost 28 years, Western Howard County has always been biased, racist and ever-so privileged. I'm sure behind closed doors the undertone is racist and religious.The facade with all it's fallacies will fade away and RRDW will be exposed for what they are and what they truly represent. Good luck and Ameen!
  • Lisa Wright
    I am a Christian, therefore I say Amen. You assuming that my motives for not wanting this complex in to my neighborhood are racist based on me being a Christian and living in Western Howard County, sounds like you are the one who is judging, biased, and perhaps racist. I agree with every word David spoke, and I really identify (as most of us "ever-so-previleged" Western Ho Co residents) with Sarah C's comments in this forum (below.) Funny, I grew up in Western Ho Co, far longer than you grew up in Columbia, and my recollection of my area greatly differs from yours. Priveledged, we were not. Many of my classmates worked hard on their parents farms before arriving at school every morning. Most homes in this area were small ranchers. Many of us were poor, but very rich in community. My friends are Latinas, Indians, Koreans, Turks,, Kuwaiti, etc.... Your assumptions are incorrect and show that you don't have full comprehension of our objections. Please take some time to review some of the comments made by our Howard County residents for better understanding. God Bless, Lisa.
  • Vicky Cutroneo
    Any mention of shady financial dealings is in reference to the campaign contributions by your legal counsel and other developers to those who make zoning decisions. It does not in any way accuse Dar-us-salaam to be involved in this. Indeed, the irony is that we don't believe your group would ascribe to doing business like this. It is the lack of transparency and legitimacy in the zoning process in Howard County that we would like to change and people should be held accountable. Any reference to business as usual is referring to changing the culture of the zoning process.
  • Amy Brendel  - For Shame
    To say that this will not negatively impact the neighbors or the western end of the county is nothing short of a blind lie and merits nothing but a snide belly laugh. Shame on anyone who is for this. For years the fine folks of this area have fought (and in most cases) lost in their battle to keep the integrity and peacefulness of the western end intact. We are over regulated and overtaxed. This is the last straw. Those who have decided to push this through are not residents here. My family has been here for generations. I was hoping to raise my children in the same county where my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great and so on. It will be unrecognizable now. Shame on you people. You have no idea what you have done to our lovely and quiet community.
  • Sarah C.  - Open Letter to Dar-us-salaam Leadership
    First, let me start by saying the following: when you shoehorn your way into an established community, residents are not going to welcome you with open arms. We would feel the same if you were a large corporation trying to change our rural landscape. Your religion has nothing to do with our anger, frustration and the motivation behind why we're fighting your development. Have you bothered to notice what is surrounding the property that you would like to over- develop? Have you bothered to research our farming culture here in the rural West and the historical landmarks we are trying to preserve? Have you taken the time to read about the preservation policies associated with the Federally-funded Scenic Byway (Rt 144) or Plan Howard 2030? Have you bothered to have conversations with the farmers that will live near your large development? You see, the development that you want to build will be the beginning of the end of the rural West. Let's be honest, your "education and community" center is a small city. Many of us moved out here to escape highly congested areas like College Park. Your development will for sure open the door for many developers. Also, I find it interesting that some members of your organization are not happy with the idea of moving from College Park. It's my understanding that some members are more supportive of multiple locations of DUS and keeping College Park as a campus. They may not articulate this frustration to DUS leadership but they sure are voicing their opinions in other forums. You are asking a lot of your drive very long distances or pack up and move their families. Your development will be intrusive. Your development will create more of a tax burden for residents of Howard County when roads need to be expanded and infrastructure enhanced to accommodate this small city of yours. But do you care? Do you care about our potential tax burden? Many of us have done the research and we know your long-term plans. We also know why you tell us one thing and do another. That is not how we do business out here. How can we trust you? How can we learn to live together when you have pulled out of negotiations for your own benefit at the last minute? Overall, you have greatly underestimated many of us and our ability to continue to fight for what WE believe. We are not giving up. We are standing firm in order to protect this area that generations of farmers and residents have worked to protect and preserve. The number of residents that do not approve of this development is growing...quickly. You will see that in time, this was a very, very bad idea.
  • A. Rizvi  - An Open Letter to Howard County
    After reading the above letters, I just thought I would share my experiences with you. I used to be a home room teacher at Al-Huda school when it was first purchased from a church, about 15 years ago. Let me tell you, those people I worked with at Al-Huda school were some of the most pro-rural and environmentally conscious you'll ever find. I remember the principal wanting to build a nature area behind the school so that the school could teach the students the beauty of the outdoors. I remember him sending me to the boondocks to attend a workshop on nature areas. I can tell you, this campus will fit in very well with your rural community and benefit greatly from your farming culture. Actually, I re-visited Al-Huda school last summer and was kind of disappointed to see how old that building had now become. The children at the school really deserve a newer and bigger facility to study and play in.
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