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.
For more updates, visit www.HomeOfTheHeart.org.