The Howard County Board of Appeals last night approved plans for the county's first permanent mosque, pleasing members of a Muslim congregation who worked to allay neighbors' concerns about parking, noise, lights and terrorism.
The board voted 4-0 to approve a special exception for a religious facility in Clarksville on Route 108 just east of Manor Lane for the Dar-Al-Taqwa congregation.
"Definitely I'm pleased with everyone involved in getting this project approved," said Salah Elshanawany, a congregation member and engineer. "I was expecting that result after all the work that went into this."
For three years, the congregation, which has about 200 Muslim families in the county on its mailing list, has worshiped and studied in a makeshift mosque in an office suite in Columbia's Wilde Lake Village Center.
Members hope that by December 2000 -- when the mosque's special exception expires -- they will have raised the necessary $1 million and built a 120-seat, brick mosque on a partially wooded lot in the semirural residential area.
Until then, the board's decision will allow members to worship in a house on the 6.8-acre property. The decision won't be official for about 30 days, when it is expected to be written and signed by board members.
Although no opponents showed up at last night's board work session, Dar-Al-Taqwa met opposition -- when its case was reviewed by the county Planning Board on Nov. 23.
One neighbor, Richard Rodes, a retired Unitarian minister, told the board that he meant no offense when he urged authorities to make certain "that this particular religious facility would not develop training grounds for Muslim terrorists."
Mr. Elshanawany said last night that considering a written apology from Mr. Rodes, the congregation had put the comments behind it.
"We understand that, and we've forgotten all about that already," he said. "It's past history."
Other neighbors had raised more predictable concerns about the planned 9,800-square-foot mosque, which would feature a 29-foot-high dome, 34-foot-high minaret and a multipurpose room for weekend educational and social activities.
Residents of the area, most of whom live on lots of 3 or more acres, said they fear the mosque would damage the landscape and rural character of the community. They noted that there already were two other special zoning exceptions nearby for a veterinarian and a beauty salon.
The mosque, they argued, would create traffic jams, strip away woodlands and flood their properties with bright parking-lot lights. They also raised concerns that their property values would fall.
Richard B. Talkin, a Columbia zoning attorney who represented Dar-Al-Taqwa, said last night that members of the congregation were able to work with neighbors on those concerns.
The congregation "satisfied all the concerns that were raised at the Planning Board," he said.
Among other things, the congregation agreed to reduce the size of its proposed building from 20,000 square feet to 9,800 square feet and to reduce the number of proposed parking spaces. Members also said there would be no regular outdoor activities.
Before the congregation began meeting in 1992, the county's Muslims had to travel to Washington or Baltimore to worship.
Last night, appeals board members ended their work session by saying goodbye to departing member Wayman Scott, who served on the board for 11 years, and welcoming new member Jerry Rushing of Savage, who was appointed by the County Council Monday night.