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Lawsuit seeks injunction to continue Harford Co. development marketed to Muslims

State delegate responds that the project is violating fair housing laws

Gavel

By Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The owner and builder of a townhouse subdivision in Harford County marketed as a retirement community for Muslims are asking a federal judge to issue an injunction requiring the government to issue necessary permits so construction can continue, alleging religious bias is motivating hold-ups.

The development was proceeding normally until the defendants, the county government and several state legislative representatives, learned the homes were being marketed to and purchased by Muslims and “conspired” to shut it down, according to the motion for a preliminary injunction filed Oct. 10.

But a state delegate named in the lawsuit claims the community in Joppatowne itself discriminates based on religion and he’s planning to file a federal fair housing complaint.

“No one in Joppatowne is afraid of Muslims,” Del. Richard K. Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, said Wednesday. “Joppatowne is an open community. This is about housing discrimination.”

The lawsuit against the county claims the owners have marketed the community to Muslims but have also said it is open to anyone 55 or older.

The second delegate named in the suit, Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, said Wednesday he plans to pursue defamation claims against the plaintiffs because they have accused him of something that amounts to misconduct in office.

“The lawsuit is based on a big lie,” McDonough said. “It’s a phony lawsuit.”

OT LLC, which owns the subdivision, and Gemcraft Homes Inc., the builder, filed suit in U.S. District Court in September alleging religious discrimination is behind refusals to issue additional building permits, water and sewage permits and use-and-occupancy permits without “burdensome and costly obligations.”

At a community meeting in September, the complaint alleges, McDonough said he had encouraged county officials to investigate the project and delay issuing permits.

McDonough said he told County Executive Barry Glassman, who asked him about the issue at an event over the summer, to make sure the builders are in compliance with county regulations.

“I have no bias about this project,” he said.

The lawsuit also alleges Impallaria, after contacting OT about community concerns ahead of the September meeting, ignored the response correcting misinformation and “continued to perpetuate his false narrative,” the lawsuit states.

Impallaria and McDonough both said they do not have the power to stop the county from issuing building permits, which are overseen by the county.

A spokeswoman for Harford County declined to comment on pending litigation but pointed to published statements from county officials who said the project would be treated like any other and has issues that need to be addressed regarding bonds for roads, water and sewer lines, and stormwater management.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Kramon & Graham PA in Baltimore. An attorney was not available for comment Wednesday.

Andullah Dibba, imam for the Baltimore chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said his organization is not directly involved in the lawsuit but its members are the ones purchasing houses in the development. They plan to reach out to the community to clear up misunderstandings and explain the project.

“Our side of the story is we want to reach out to the neighbors in Joppatowne so we can build a sort of trust and tell them who we are,” he said.

Dibba said the community is not exclusive and is open to anyone who wants to live there.

Targeted delays

Construction of five townhouses began in April, and the units were scheduled for completion by the end of September with closing dates scheduled with buyers. But in early September the county attorney informed OT no more building permits would be issued without conditions being met and use-and-occupancy permits for the completed homes were not issued.

During the delays, the plaintiffs argue, they and the homebuyers are incurring costs. The majority of the buyers lined up are coming from out of state and had closings on their new homes delayed indefinitely.

The motion for an injunction claims the defendants acted with a discriminatory purpose after the “uproar within certain corners of the community,” and it seeks a declaratory judgment that the county’s conduct is unlawful.

The subdivision and development of the property was first approved in 2005 and included a requirement that residents be 55 or older, according to the lawsuit. OT later bought the bulk of the lots, purported to be finished and ready for construction, then entered an option contract with a nonprofit associated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in April.

The agreement was conditioned on OT getting approval for a community center, sometimes referred to as a mosque in marketing materials, on three consolidated lots. The developer has promoted the townhouses within the Muslim community but has also publicly announced it does not intend to exclude the sale of lots to others.

The community center plan was not approved until Oct. 6, the day after the plaintiffs advised the county of plans to file the request for an injunction, timing the motion calls “beyond suspicious.”

In late July, the county attorney sent a letter to OT stating that the proposed community center could not be used as a mosque, the plaintiffs claim. In August, an official informed the plaintiffs that he had been “instructed to inspect the Property daily and give the builder a hard time” and the director of administration brought up the “Muslim issue” at a meeting with the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges these actions were deliberate attempts to stop the project.

The case is OT LLC et al. v. Harford County, Maryland et al., 1:17-cv-02812-GLR.


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