Members of the Howard County Board of Appeals postponed last night a vote on a proposal to build the county's first mosque, saying the three hours of testimony in the case requires careful review before any decision is made.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 members of the county's only Muslim congregation, board members said they will study the testimony and vote on the mosque proposal at an April 4 work session. "We want to be able to go over all of the evidence thoroughly," said Evelyn Tanner, who chairs the board.
Postponement of the vote disappointed members of the Dar-Al-Taqwa congregation, who came to the meeting with an attorney, an engineer and an architect. They told the board that there was a need for the mosque because the rented space in which they hold services is too small.
The mosque, which would be located off Route 108 between Columbia and Ellicott City, is opposed by residents near the site, who say it would destroy the rural character of the area.
"I was hoping to get the decision [last night], but this is something that we'll have to deal with," said Sayed Hassan, president of the Dar-Al-Taqwa congregation. "But I think things went quite well. I'm very optimistic that things will go through."
Only one person who lives near the proposed site testified against the mosque last night.
"I think that there is a need for a Muslim place of worship," James E. Sagmiller told the board. "This particular site is not the proper site for this facility. We're very concerned that our area is going to cascade into something we do not want."
Mr. Sagmiller repeated concerns that he and others had raised in the past about increased traffic on a dangerous section of Route 108, the possibility of bright parking lot lights disturbing residents at night and the potential loss of woodlands.
To present Dar-Al-Taqwa's case, the congregation hired Richard Talkin, one of the county's most experienced zoning attorneys whose clients include Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Howard County developer and Washington parking magnate Kingdon Gould.
Mr. Talkin argued that the mosque would blend in well with the community and that the congregation deserved to have the site because its members are longtime county residents, who should be granted the same opportunities as anyone else.
Dar-Al-Taqwa's plan calls for daily Muslim assemblies, Sunday religion classes and Friday prayer services in a $1 million brick mosque.
For years, members of Dar-Al-Taqwa traveled to Washington, Laurel or Baltimore for services.
Since August 1992, the county's estimated 200 Muslim families have worshiped in Suite 415 in the Wilde Lake Village Center, where there is limited space.
At the 6.8-acre site, the congregation would renovate an existing house to be used as a mosque. A second phase, which would be completed in five years, would involve building a 9,800-square-foot mosque, a multi-purpose center and a 34-foot-high minaret. The mosque would serve about 120 people.
Members of the Dar-Al-Taqwa congregation have met with residents to ease their concerns.
"We did meet every possible issue with our neighbors," Columbia resident Raghid Shourbaji told the board. "This is part of our religion, teaching us to live in harmony with our neighbors."