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Development meeting on proposed mosque in Harford County draws standing room only crowd Wednesday morning

Sean Moran, left, and Bruce Huber, center listen as they and Hasan Shah, right, with the Harford Islamic Center, talk about ways they can work together to get the community information about the proposed mosque on Rt. 543 in Bel Air during Wednesday morning's Development Advisory Committee meeting held at the Harford County Council Chambers.
Sean Moran, left, and Bruce Huber, center listen as they and Hasan Shah, right, with the Harford Islamic Center, talk about ways they can work together to get the community information about the proposed mosque on Rt. 543 in Bel Air during Wednesday morning's Development Advisory Committee meeting held at the Harford County Council Chambers. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

A standing-room only crowd packed the Harford County Council chambers Wednesday morning for a review of plans to build a mosque in the Creswell area.

Unlike hateful rhetoric and threats posted on social media earlier this week regarding the project, attendees largely spoke about traffic worries during the more than two-hour Harford County Development Advisory Committee hearing.

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The nonprofit Harford Islamic Center has submitted plans to the county to subdivide a nearly 12-acre lot out of a larger 51-acre parcel at Route 543 and Nova Scotia Road south of Bel Air and convert buildings on the site into a 60-seat house of worship.

The site is between Route 543 and a handful of houses along Quail Creek Court.

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A number of people who live along Quail Creek Court expressed concern Wednesday about whether more structures on the property, beyond the barn being converted into the house of worship, would be used by the Harford Islamic Center, bringing more traffic to the small residential street.

A key point of contention for Quail Creek residents is plans build a new access road from the court to the house of worship when there is an existing driveway from Route 543.

Craig Miceli said he is “totally against this project, especially the accessing [from] our street.”

Residents there also wondered how the development would affect the local aquifer that feeds shared residential wells.

Resident Kurt Umbarger emphasized that bigotry and fear of Muslims has not been part of the discussions among him and his neighbors, who “condemn” such sentiments that have been expressed on social media.

“They do not reflect the Harford County community that many of us know and love,” he said.

One speaker did question whether the Harford Islamic Society would be teaching Sharia law; another said the underlying fears over Islam must be addressed to ensure the safety of everyone at the complex.

Representatives of the Harford Islamic Center encouraged people to visit and learn more about the faith. Khalid Aslam stressed that Muslims who live and work in Harford County “are your doctors, we are your pharmacists, we are your businessmen.”

“We are your brothers, we are your sisters,” Aslam said. “From the bottom of my heart, I invite you to [Harford Islamic Center].”

On social media, plans drew condemnation and even threats from residents in the days leading up to the meeting, prompting the Maryland office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, to reach out to Harford Islamic Center board members. The threats were reported to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

County Executive Barry Glassman issued a statement Tuesday on the Harford County Government Facebook page: “We do not tolerate violence against anyone and expect our citizens to be a model of civility for the state and the nation,” along with a link to the county’s Choose Civility campaign.

The statement was not a direct response to the mosque project, said county spokesperson Cindy Mumby, but was in response to “nasty comments that we’ve been made aware of on Facebook that relate to this project."

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The property is owned by the Churchville-based Crescent Investment Group LLC, according to the preliminary subdivision plan. The lot which the mosque is slated for is on land zoned for rural residential use.

This article will be updated.

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