A Muslim community leader told a crowd of about 200 people Tuesday night that the Ansar housing complex being built in Joppatowne will be open to anyone who wants to buy a house there, refuting concerns from residents and elected officials that it would be for Muslims only.
“This community was and always will be open to everyone,” Dr. Faheem Younus, president of the Shades and Springs organization formed to purchase houses along Trails Way, said.
“My intention is to have a community perfectly in line with the fair housing laws of our country,” he said.
He made his pledge to the audience gathered in the Joppa-Magnolia fire hall for a community meeting about the development. Three Harford legislators who represent Joppa in Annapolis — Republican Dels. Rick Impallaria, Pat McDonough and Kathy Szeliga — led the meeting.
Impallaria invited Younus to address the audience.
Younus told the audience about himself, saying he has lived in the U.S. for 21 years and immigrated from Pakistan.
The physician, who lives in Perry Hall, is the chief of infectious disease at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.
“Whether you like it or not, you trust me with your life every single day,” Younus said.
The Ansar community has been advertised online as a “peace village” for elderly members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an international Messianic, revivalist movement founded in the late 1800s.
Anyone who builds along Trails Way must abide by a consent degree from the early 2000s that at least one resident of each house be 55 or older, since the land along the Gunpowder River is part of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area.
Younus gave his word that “we will live by the letter of the law” regarding the age restrictions.
He said a community center is planned for the development, which will be used for social, educational and religious purposes.
“Yes we plan to pray there,” he said. “We also plan to open it up to all of you so you can pray there as well.”
Tammy Baczynskyj, a resident of Joppatowne who lives along Foster Knoll Drive near the construction site on Trails Way, asked if she can get “some peace and quiet” now that the county is not issuing more building permits for the site — county officials have said permits were on hold pending resolution of stormwater management and other issues.
Baczynskyj said she had not been able to sit outside since construction started, which she said later starts at 7 a.m. and lasts until about 7:30 p.m.
"I am really really being disrupted about this, and the secrecy about this has been horrible,” she told Younus.
Abdul Latif Bennett, of Baltimore, told the audience he is an Ahmadiyya Muslim and wants to move into the community.
"I wanted to move there — I still want to move there and, I hope that you will be my neighbors,” said Bennett, 53.
State Del. Kathy Szeliga, who also represents Harford County in Annapolis, told Bennett he would be welcome. “Everyone is welcome in this community,” she said.
Tuesday’s meeting came on the heels of a federal lawsuit filed against Harford County and two of its state delegates, Impallaria and McDonough.
Impallaria, who organized an earlier meeting on the Ansar complex and helped lead Tuesday’s meeting, held a copy of the 68-page lawsuit as he vowed that he and other elected officials will not be intimidated.
He described the suit as a way to “threaten and intimidate us to get us to go away and make us not represent you.”
“This will not get through court, but it will attract national attention,” McDonough said.
The suit was filed last Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore, according to Impallaria’s copy.
The plaintiffs are listed as Gemcraft and the entity that owns the property, OT LLC, which has the same Forest Hill address as Gemcraft.
The defendants, in addition to the two legislators, include the Harford County government, County Executive Barry Glassman, Director of Administration Billy Boniface, County Attorney Melissa Lambert and Joseph Siemek, director of public works.
The suit was filed because the county is no longer issuing building permits, according to the complaint.
Majlis Ansarullah USA, a Silver Spring-based Ahmadiyya Muslim organization, has been working with Gemcraft.
Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for the county government, confirmed the county has received the suit.
“We have been served, and OT LLC and Gemcraft Homes are contesting the county’s permitting and bonding requirements,” she said Wednesday. “Our response will be available through the federal court.”
The plaintiffs allege county officials and state legislators “have engaged and continue to engage in a conspiracy to discriminate on the basis of religion in land use and housing” in violation of federal and state law.
“Motivated by and in direct response to anti-Islamic sentiments expressed by certain public officials and certain members of the community, and without any lawful basis, Harford County has refused to issue building permits to the plaintiffs,” according to the suit.
The plaintiffs want the court to compel the county to issue the relevant approvals and permits, as well as financial damages “against those persons who have maliciously interfered with the Plaintiffs’ contractual and economic rights with third parties.”
The plantiffs are suing