By Blair Ames, firstname.lastname@example.org
8:15 AM EST, February 26, 2013
Nearby residents of the former Woodmont Academy believe a zoning change request could lead to greater development on the Cooksville property.
The Woodmont Educational Foundation, Inc. is in the process of selling the 66-acre property to Dar-us-Salaam, a nearly 800-family Muslim community. The foundation has applied for the Institutional Overlay District, which is "established to permit community-serving institutional and cultural facilities," according to county zoning regulations.
Dar-us-Salaam is planning to develop an Islamic Community Center at the site that would include its school and worship services.
Residents are concerned that if Dar-us-Salaam is granted the new zoning district, which would allow it to build a religious structure, it could have too much flexibility developing the property.
"This allows them (Dar-us-Salaam) to bypass the need to go through the conditional use process," said David Yungmann, a Woodbine resident who helped organize the Residents for Responsible Development of Woodmont.
Yungmann said the zoning request could "open the flood gates" for future development at Woodmont, but also throughout the rest of western Howard County.
"When you start rezoning 50 to 100 acre properties, it could attract larger projects," he said.
The property currently is zoned rural conservation, with conditional uses for a private school and retreat center.
Dar-us-Salaam, which operates a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school at its College Park campus, has agreed to purchase the former home of Woodmont Academy, located off Frederick Road near Route 97. Officials have said the community and school have outgrown current facilities where they have operated for the past 14 years.
Local residents have said the size and scope of the proposed project would change the landscape of rural western Howard County.
They formed the nonprofit Residents for Responsible Development of Woodmont to oppose efforts by Dar-us-Salaam to receive conditional uses that were not granted to Woodmont Academy, which closed after the 2010-11 school year.
Attorney Sang Oh, representing the owners of Woodmont in the zoning request, said his client asked for the institutional zoning to replace its current conditional uses, which expire when not used.
Oh said the conditional uses for a private school and retreat center are expected to expire "sometime these summer."
Residents for Responsible Development of Woodmont has stated it is not opposed to Dar-us-Salaam being granted the same conditional uses that Woodmont was given, but objects to Dar-us-Salaam's plan to develop the property with facilities large enough to accommodate thousands of people.
The group is seeking an agreement with Dar-us-Salaam to give the community a voice in long-term growth plans.
"If you're not willing to give the community some control over your long-term growth plans, then that tells me you'll just come back for more," Yungmann said. "Then it just grows and grows and grows."
Oh said he was aware of residents' concerns. He added that by making the zoning request during comprehensive rezoning, he believes it will encourage dialogue as the two sides seek a "middle ground."
Residents for Responsible Development of Woodmont has scheduled a meeting to update the community Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m., at Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood.
Comprehensive rezoning requests are expected to come before the Howard County Planning Board in the next few months with the first public hearing on rezoning requests scheduled for March 27 at 6 p.m. in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.