Forest Hill builder Bill Luther is determined to complete the Ansar Housing Complex in Joppatowne, despite a freeze on building permit approvals by the Harford County government and persistent community opposition to a development billed as a "mini-peace village" for Ahmadiyya Muslims.
Luther, the president and CEO of Gemcraft Homes, defended the federal lawsuit he has filed against the county during a community meeting Tuesday evening at the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Co. hall.
“I have to find a way to move the subdivision forward,” Luther said. “It's the only way that I know.”
Luther and Dr. Faheem Younus, president of the Shades and Springs Inc., a nonprofit group formed to buy 48 houses, hosted the meeting. About 19 people attended.
The community is being built along Trails Way in Joppatowne. The land along the Gunpowder River has been slated for development since the early 2000s, and houses were built on four of the 56 lots in 2006. It has been proposed that four lots would be used to build a community center.
Tuesday’s meeting was the last of five in which Younus participated or hosted since late September in order to inform the community about the Ansar development.
“For the record, the houses are open to everyone,” Younus said Tuesday.
He encouraged anyone who still does not believe him to buy a house.
“The ball is in your court,” he told the audience.
Luther has participated in two community meetings, including Tuesday’s, at Younus’ request despite the litigation.
“I'd be happy to help educate everyone the best I could on what's going on,” he said after the meeting.
The developers must abide by a consent decree that at least one resident of each house be age 55 or older. Development languished until this past spring, when Silver Spring-based Majlis Ansarullah USA celebrated the groundbreaking of the mini-peace village for elderly members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam.
Many people in the community, as well as the state delegates who represent Joppatowne, were concerned about a lack of information from Majlis Ansarullah and the county. Also, word circulated that the subdivision could be a Muslim-only neighborhood.
More concern was fueled by the news that the community center would be used as a mosque.
Younus has stressed prayer services are legally permissible in the community center, which would be open to visitors. He has even hosted one community meeting at his mosque in Rosedale to ease concerns.
”There is no gate on the community [center], there is no extra security,” he said of the proposed facility in Joppatowne.
“We will use it according to the law,” Younus continued.
Luther said the Ansar homeowners’ association will craft guidelines on how the community center is used by residents and their guests.
Luther, in response to audience questions about a lack of advertising for home sales, said he has tried to avoid the costs of listing the properties for sale — 14 lots have been sold so far without using traditional methods such as multiple listing services.
“It’s thousands and thousands of dollars, and if we can sell without having to spend advertising dollars that’s what we try to do,” Luther said. “We would sell a house to anybody and everybody, any time, anywhere, any place.”
He said he has not been able to get use and occupancy permits from the county, which would allow the 14 new homebuyers to move in — he expects to have all 14 lots built out by the end of this year.
He cannot get building permits from the county to start construction on the remaining lots, though.
“Sometimes what choice do you have,” he said of the lawsuit. “How do I get these poor people in their houses?”
Luther said later that he filed a federal injunction about two weeks ago to get the case heard within 60 days.
County officials have said previously that permits are on hold until issues on matters such as posting updated bonds for infrastructure, roads and water and sewer lines, and the need to file a new stormwater management plan, are resolved.
The site plan for the community center, however, has been approved, according to Luther.
County Councilman Mike Perrone, whose district includes Joppatowne, thanked Luther and Younus for hosting the Tuesday meeting and for their prior efforts to engage the community, “simply because they don’t have to.”
Younus said he will have to “move on” at some point, if his current methods of community engagement do not help move the project forward.
“At some stage — and I think that stage is very close — I may have to go and seek my rights elsewhere,” he said. “I cannot stay in limbo forever.”
“My elders are suffering; we are losing dollars, we are losing sleep over it,” he said.
Younus said later that he does not know what his next steps will be.
“I’m still hopeful that love will win over hate,” he said.
Younus and Luther faced questions that have come up in other forums, such as whether the Ansar community will be truly open to all and why the houses were not widely advertised. People also expressed concerns about an all-Muslim community , given the rise in Islamic extremism in recent years.
Mustafa Sidik, of Joppatowne, tried to counter concerns about Islamic extremists — he stressed Ahmadiyya is a peaceful sect of Islam, whose adherents have been persecuted by other Muslims.
Sidik, 23, said later that he attended the meeting Tuesday and others because of “the stark Islamophobia that I was seeing on social media.”
He is affiliated with a separate organization, the Annur Foundation of Baltimore County.
Joppatowne resident Kathleen Young said she has fewer concerns after Tuesday’s meeting, given the “misinformation” that has circulated.
“We have been given a lot of misinformation, and I think that's been cleared up tonight,” Young said.
She said, however, she will still follow the saying she has employed since her children were young: “Don’t tell me, show me.”