The former home of Woodmont Academy off Frederick Road in Cooksville is surrounded by horse farms, all of which are entered in the Howard County Agricultural Preservation Program.
For Jennifer "Bird" Mobberley, who lives on the 134-acre farm directly across from Woodmont, rezoning the former Catholic school property "just doesn't make any sense."
Mobberley was among the nearly 600 residents who attended the Howard County Planning Board's public hearing Monday evening on comprehensive zoning requests at Glenelg High School. Most were against the proposed rezoning at Woodmont, which would allow the Dar-us-Salaam Muslim Community an easier path to building an Islamic community center, including a mosque and school.
"Why would you, the Planning Board, recommend the rezoning of property directly across the street that does not even remotely resemble a commercial, transitional zone?" she asked the five planning board members, who heard testimony from more than 60 residents during the four-hour hearing.
When attorney Paul Skalny asked those opposed to the zoning request to stand, only a few people remained seated as the crowd broke into applause.
The Woodmont property is currently zoned rural conservation with conditional use permits for educational and retreat facilities. Residents have said they are not opposed to Dar-us-Salaam using the same conditional uses granted to Woodmont, but are against the additional development on the property.
"If Dar-us-Salaam wants to use the property in a way other than what has already been granted at Woodmont, it should seek a modification of the existing conditional use," Skalny said. "That is the right process to accomplish this objectives."
The conditional use process is more time-consuming and expensive than the comprehensive zoning process.
The Woodmont Education Foundation Inc. has asked that Woodmont be zoned with the Institutional Overlay District, which is "established to permit community-serving institutional and cultural facilities," according to county zoning regulations.
The comprehensive zoning process, which follows every update of the county's general plan, offers the county an opportunity to begin implementing the vision laid out in the general plan, PlanHoward 2030. It also allows the county to review its zoning regulations and citizens to submit requests for a change in zoning.
The county's Department of Planning and Zoning has advised against the Institutional Overlay for the Woodmont property, instead suggesting the Community Center Transition (CCT) zoning, which is intended to serve as a transition from residential to commercial areas.
Residents 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, a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade that closed after the 2010-11 school year.
"Our opposition group is in no way about religion," said Glen Moran, president of the executive board of Residents for Responsible Development of Woodmont. "It's about establishing responsible land use policy consistent with Howard County's general plan."
Moran said the nonprofit has more than 350 members and 1,000 people have signed up to receive email.
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 sale of the property is dependent upon a number of factors, including the zoning change and fundraising, according to Minhaj Hasan, a member of Dar-us-Salaam's Board of Trustees.
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. Dar-us-Salaam officials have said the community and school have outgrown current facilities where they have operated for the past 14 years.
The Planning Board will host a third and final hearing Thursday, April 11 at 7 p.m. at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City for residents who have signed up, but not yet had the opportunity to testify. The board is expected to make its recommendations to the County Council by the end of May, according to Marsha McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.
Apartments in Fulton?
More than 20 residents opposed to the possibility of apartments being built in Fulton attended Monday's hearing with a handful testifying in front of the Planning Board.
Maple Lawn Farms Inc. has requested rezoning of 91 acres along Scaggsville Road across from Reservoir High School. The property is currently zoned rural residential, but Maple Lawn is seeking the R-A-15 zoning, which would allow for 15 units per acre.
If granted, the zoning would allow an apartment complex with more than 1,000 units to be built.
The current zoning allows for one home per three acres.
"For all its purported emphasis on enhancing quality of life for future residents, this amendment fails to account for the lives of those of us who have already chosen Fulton to raise their family," said Fulton resident Phil Hartten.
Under PlanHoward 2030, the property was incorporated into the Planned Service Area for public water and sewer.
Over the past two weeks, residents have said the zoning and potential development would overburden area roads and schools.