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The cost of demagoguery in Harford County

The dispute about the Old Trail housing development in Harford County’s Joppatowne community ought to be a simple matter of a disagreement between a builder and local officials over permits and stormwater plans. The long-stalled project has been churning its way through the county’s development process for well over a decade, and now officials believe the builder needs to file new bond documents and other paperwork and — most consequentially — to demonstrate compliance with new stormwater management rules that went into effect in the intervening years. The developer argues that its filings are up to date and that under law it should be grandfathered into the old stormwater standards.

All in all, ho-hum stuff that at most might wind up in circuit court.

But instead, it’s the subject of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit in federal court, thanks to the unfortunate coincidence that the development is now being marketed as a retirement community for a particular sect of Muslims, and it happens to be in Maryland’s 7th Legislative District, home to the infamous duo of demagogues, Dels. Pat McDonough and Rick Impallaria.

The two have pounced on the opportunity to whip up public distrust of Islam in the community, and the builders, the Forest Hill firm Gemcraft Homes, allege that they have coerced Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s administration into killing the development under the guise of code compliance. What they have succeeded in doing is to simultaneously tarnish Harford County’s reputation as a welcoming community and to tie it up in messy and embarrassing civil rights litigation. It’s all as unnecessary as it is ugly.

The group of Muslims in question belong to the Ahmadiyya community, a comparatively new sect of Islam whose members often face discrimination from other Muslims. They should also be familiar to readers of this page, as members of the local Ahmidayya community are frequent contributors of op-eds and letters to the editor, typically writing about the commandments for peace in Islam and in opposition to those who would justify terrorism in its name. A non-profit associated with Maryland’s Ahmidayya Muslims has negotiated an exclusive agreement with the developer of the property to buy 45 lots within the community, which it intends to market primarily to homebuyers within the faith.

They have made some mistakes in how they presented their plans. Some initial marketing materials posted by an Ahmadi men’s group referred to the development as a “peace village” in which lots would only be sold to Muslims. Other materials referred to a planned “community center/mosque” within the property. However, the builders and the leader of the Ahmadi non-profit that is marketing the lots have subsequently confirmed that the homes will be available to anyone to purchase (subject to a pre-existing covenant designating it as a 55-plus community) and that although the community center will host some prayers and other religious activity, it will serve other purposes as well and will not be open to the public beyond the residents of the development.

Those two statements alone should clear up any concern that the development would violate either federal fair housing laws or Harford County zoning codes. But that was, of course, never really the issue. Mr. Impallaria said in a statement Thursday that he would not be intimidated and would “stand up to housing discrimination regardless of who is promoting it” — as if he wasn’t the one who had been doing the intimidating and discriminating. We expect he and Mr. McDonough, who is a candidate for Baltimore County executive and whose record of bigoted populism would make President Donald Trump blush, will continue to use this issue to whip up their core supporters no matter what the facts may be.

Mr. Glassman has always impressed us as being cut from a wholly different cloth from those two. Members of his administration say they are treating this development like any other and that they stand ready to help the developers resolve the remaining permitting issues. That is precisely what they should do, and we hope they will, no matter what public pressure they may face. But thanks to the antics of Messrs. McDonouogh and Impallaria, their every action will now come under intense scrutiny. That’s a no-win situation.

Caught in the middle of it all is a group of Americans who have done nothing more than to seek the opportunity for a quiet retirement in a community that is home to other members of their faith. That is not sinister. It’s not even unusual, and those who would stoke fears of it for political gain should be ashamed.

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