Harford ordered to release permits for houses in Joppatowne subdivision disputed as ‘Muslim community’

Jim JoynerThe Baltimore Sun

A federal judge has given a partial victory to the developer of a Harford County subdivision that some residents had opposed, calling it a Muslim-only community.

U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III issued a preliminary injunction Friday requiring the county to issue occupancy permits and water and sewer hookups for 14 townhouses in the Old Trails subdivision that have already been built.

Builder Gemcraft Homes Inc. said the ruling — pending the company’s posting of bonds and fees associated with the permits — will allow people who have already purchased the 14 units to move in.

Old Trails is being marketed as a community for 55-and-older residents.

Shades and Springs Inc., a nonprofit entity affiliated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, has an option to buy units from OT LLC, the owner. At community meetings, some Harford residents had opposed what they considered a community for Muslims only. The owners and Gemcraft have maintained that that’s not the case.

“It’s open and available to everyone,” said William R. Luther, Gemcraft CEO.

In September, the builder filed a lawsuit against County Executive Barry Glassman and other officials alleging that the county had attempted to block construction and the sale of the homes in response to “anti-Islamic sentiments expressed by certain public officials and certain members of the community.”

In issuing the injunction, Russell said the project had received “more scrutiny from the county than other projects as a result of the concern and pressure from some county residents because the prospective purchasers were Muslim,” according to a transcript of the ruling.

But the judge denied a request from the builder to receive permits for 38 remaining vacant lots in the subdivision, and for a community center. Those matters are expected to advance in the lawsuit.

Luther called the judge’s ruling on the 14 units “a great victory for the families who were forced to put their lives on hold and have waited for nine months to receive this favorable decision. We believe it was cold, cowardly and cruel for the county to block these people from taking delivery of their homes.”

County officials have said the permits were on hold for reasons related to stormwater management, performance bonds and other issues.

Cynthia Mumby, a spokeswoman for the county, said Saturday that county officials have received the judge’s decision and have not decided on a possible appeal. She said the county maintains that its review of the project has been lawful and appropriate.

“Harford County handled this project properly and treated it the same as any other,” she said in an email statement to The Sun. “We are confident that we will ultimately prevail when this issue goes to trial.”

Del. Pat McDonough, who was among elected officials who called for the county to review aspects of the project, said Saturday that he was “satisfied with what the judge had to say. It’s part of the process. It’s the judge’s decision.”

McDonough, a Republican who is running for his party’s nomination for Baltimore County executive, represents a district that includes parts of Harford and Baltimore counties. He said he had been approached by residents trying to get details about the project, and added, “My only interest in this case is about compliance in the local laws.”

In his ruling, Russell said that while some issues remain with the still-vacant lots, the ones that have already been built upon should be allowed to become occupied and productive.

“It’s not in the county’s best interest for real property development to lay abandoned,” he said in the ruling transcript. He added that once people are living in the homes, “the county will receive thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars in much needed valuable tax revenue, as well as additional law-abiding residents.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.


http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/breaking/bs-md-ha-old-trails-joppatowne-20180623-story.htmlMuslims for Peace - Love for All, Hatred for None

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