Muslim development plans meet resistance in rural Maryland

A Muslim group’s effort to move its campus from College Park to Maryland’s rural Howard County is being met with opposition from local residents, who say dense construction plans for the site would spoil the quiet character of the area.

Although both sides insist that the debate turns solely on setting zoning precedent, it marks the latest in a series of disputes across the country in which locals have resisted the introduction of Islamic centers to their communities.

The Maryland debate began last summer, when the Dar-us-Salaam community proposed replacing its overcrowded facility. The center would be built on about 66 acres of land once home to a Catholic school 45 miles north of the District. Bordered by thoroughbred horse farms, the property is about a 15-minute drive to the nearest Starbucks, Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.
Islamic center planners initially talked about sweeping renovations to the former Catholic school, with a massive five-sided mosque and cultural center. Early reports indicated plans to construct underground parking and build dormitories to accommodate 5,000 worshippers, though the community’s representatives have dismissed those suggestions.

The relocation hinges on a change to zoning restrictions — being sought by the foundation that operated the Catholic Woodmont school to enhance the value of the property — that limit the size and scope of development. Even if the change is approved by a five-member planning board and upheld by the County Council, another tenant — a school, a nursing home or an office park — could sweep in to outbid the religious community and develop the land.

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