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Open to everyone [Editorial]

The Aegis

The development in Joppatowne known as Old Trails, or more recently as Rivers Run, has a long and tortured history stretching back decades.

The original group that tried to develop the site, which is along the Gunpowder River in the far southwestern tip of the community, found themselves blocked by the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area regulations that weren’t in effect when they got the property but were passed before any development work could begin. The creation of a 1,000-foot development buffer along the bay and its tributaries significantly altered what could be built on the site, if anything could be built at all.

What came next was lengthy litigation involving Harford County and the state that dragged on for years. Finally, in 2004, a consent decree was brokered among the litigants, under the guidance of a judge, that permitted up to 55 townhomes to be built on the site, subject to certain restrictions, the chief one being that one resident per house be at least 55 years of age. The reasoning was, according to several people familiar with the case, that such an “age targeted” community would lessen the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

Four houses, one block, were built and occupied in the 2005-06 period before the economy slowed, and the development with it. The undeveloped portion of the site has since changed ownership, most recently last year, according to county records.

Building resumed earlier this year, at which time people living in Joppatowne began seeing information on the Internet that the new houses in Old Trails allegedly were being exclusively marketed to Muslim families through a national organization Majlis Ansarullah USA for the benefit of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

That information, though it has been debunked by the person who controls the Old Trails lots, has upset many people in the Joppatowne community, several of whom attended two community meetings within the past week to vent their frustrations that they weren’t receiving answers from the county or the developer about just who will or will not be living in the community. A third such meeting is planned later this month.

At this juncture, county officials say the development has code compliance issues, including the need for a complete new stormwater control plan, which must be satisfied before any more houses can be built other than 14 permits they had previously approved. The owner of the property has disputed the county’s position, however, and litigation is likely, County Director of Administration Billy Boniface says.

Boniface also said this week, as did Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, that whoever buys houses in Old Trails is none of the county’s business, and we agree.

As long as the community is “open to everyone,” which the owner of lots, Bill Luther, says it is, then it should make no difference if Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists settle there, just as it makes no difference if their skin is black, brown, white or yellow or combination thereof.

Discrimination in any form is illegal. That people with like religious beliefs might choose to live in the same neighborhood is not only protected by law, it often happens. Developing the Old Trails property may still have issues, but who settles there is not and shouldn’t be one of them.

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