Hearings in a case to allow a College Park Muslim community to move its mosque and school to western Howard County came to an abrupt end earlier this week after it was revealed that the group's contract for the site had expired in September.
The Dar-us-Salaam congregation had hoped to build a new religious center for its growing 800-family community on the site of the former Woodmont private Catholic school in Cooksville. Plans for the project showed a mosque, religious school, daycare center and residential facilities for staff on the 65-acre plot of land, which is surrounded by horse farms and rural roads off of Interstate 70.
But since they announced their plans in 2012, Dar-us-Salaam has faced passionate pushback from Cooksville residents, who cite traffic, noise and lighting concerns to argue that the center would disrupt the community's rural feel. They've organized a group called Residents for the Reponsible Development of Woodmont to fight against what they consider to be an overly intense use of the site.
Dar-us-Salaam's request was approved with conditions by Howard County's Hearing Examiner in May, but both groups appealed the decision. For the past month, the case had been argued in front of the Board of Appeals.
At the most recent hearing on Oct. 28, Joan Becker, the attorney representing the Cooksville citizens' group, requested the case be dismissed.
According to emails presented by Becker, the Dar-us-Salaam community had had permission from the Woodmont Educational Foundation, which owns the site, to pursue a request for special zoning permissions on the property until Oct. 27, when the group's lawyer, Sang Oh, received a message revoking that permission because their contract offer had been rejected.
According to Becker, Dar-us-Salaam's contract on the land had expired Sept. 27. Oh declined to comment.
Presented with this new information, Board of Appeals members voted 3 to 1 to place the case on the unscheduled docket, essentially postponing it until further notice.
If Dar-us-Salaam does not sign a new contract and resume the zoning request within six months, the case will be dismissed.
Minhaj Hasan, a board member for Dar-us-Salaam, said the congregation was still hopeful they can work out a deal.
"What we do is we try our best to do whatever we feel we need to do to get a new campus while respecting the rights of neighbors and our responsibilities to be good neighbors, and of course working within the law, which we've done from Day 1," he said.
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He said he hoped that the community would have a better relationship with Cooksville residents moving forward.
"I really think there's a huge gap of misunderstanding," he said. "At some point, if we do end up moving to western Howard County, whether it's on the Woodmont property or some other place, we definitely hope to reopen a dialogue that should have been open a long time ago."
David Yungmann, a member of the Residents for the Responsible Development of Woodmont, called the decision a "positive development.
"I'm very encouraged and very proud of our community for pushing back," he said. "It's very costly for the community to come together like this and the deck is definitely stacked against us, but it looks like we may have prevailed in this case."
Becker said she was hopeful the site could be sold for an agricultural use, such as a horticultural or pre-veterinarian educational center for county's community college.