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Witness: Harford Co. town hall meetings on proposed Muslim community a ‘lynch mob’

Del. Patrick L. McDonough

Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford, testified Tuesday in federal court that while he had concerns a Joppatowne development was following county rules, he was not opposed to the community for Ahmadiyya Muslims. ‘To this day, I still believe if they’re in compliance it should move forward,’ he said.

When attorney Albert J.A. “Jay” Young attended a town hall meeting in Joppa in September, he wore ripped jeans and a baseball cap so he could sit among attendees and hear what they were saying about a retirement community his clients were marketing to members of their sect of Islam.

What Young heard was “deeply disturbing,” he testified Tuesday in a federal lawsuit over the project, including racial slurs about president of the Montgomery County-based nonprofit working with the developers on building the community for Ahmadiyya Muslims.

“It reminded me of a lynch mob,” said Young, of Brown, Brown & Young in Bel Air.

The plaintiffs, including the nonprofit, are asking a federal judge to order Harford County to allow the development to continue. Work began last April but had stalled by September when the builder encountered permitting issues, which the plaintiffs claim were in response to community outrage after citizens learned the homes were being marketed and sold to Muslims. At least four homes are complete and purchased, but the county has refused to issue use and occupancy permits.

A total of four town hall meetings were organized late last year by Del. Richard K. Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford, and attended by fellow delegates Patrick L. McDonough and Kathy Szeliga. After the first meeting, the delegates sent a letter to County Executive Barry Glassman asking the county to cease issuing permits until the project was investigated for compliance with local, state and federal law.

McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford, testified Tuesday he attended the September meetings at Impallaria’s invitation because he wanted to know more about the project and the community’s concerns. He told attendees he spoke with Glassman about the issue over the summer and suggested that he make sure the project was in compliance.

“I believe in the rule of law,” he said. “I believe in it passionately.”

But U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III asked why McDonough, who admitted he did not do any extensive research into the project, did not give the county the benefit of the doubt and instead demanded a project be halted when he was not “armed with all the facts.”

McDonough said he couldn’t get answers to his questions and needed time to investigate.

“To this day, I still believe if they’re in compliance it should move forward,” he said of the project.

Harford County maintains the development has been treated like any other project and that the performance bonds in place when plaintiff OT LLC purchased the property after the developer went bankrupt were no longer valid, meaning OT needed to re-bond as a developer.

But Young testified the county code states developer bonds remain in “full force and effect” until the work is completed or the county calls them. The previous owner had developed the property, so the subsequent buyer, OT, only needed building permits, which co-plaintiff Gemcraft Homes Inc. was initially able to obtain.

Young said he reviewed documents from the seller and advised his client that the bonds remained in effect.

When Gemcraft began having problems getting permits, Young attended meetings with county officials to ask what was delaying things. By that point, Young said he was aware of the “beginnings of an uproar about there being a Muslim community” and said officials brought up the “Muslim issue.”

Impallaria and McDonough both testified they heard concerns from citizens that the development, which was restricted to people age 55 and older, was going to be opened to young families and exclusively to members of the Ahmadiyya faith, with a mosque on site. They said the rumors suggested potential violations of the Fair Housing Act and they wanted to find out more information.

The defense is expected to present its case Wednesday with county officials testifying, according to the plaintiffs.

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

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