Sunday, November 11, 2012

Unrest in the West

The rural west of HoCo was the subject of two stories in The Sun this past week. Last Thursday Arthur Hirsch reported on the neighborhood opposition to the proposed Dar-us-Salaam mosque in Cooksville and yesterday Timothy B. Wheeler wrote this piece about the Mullinix brothers in Dayton, who want out of the state’s agricultural land preservation program.

A little flexibility on all sides would go a long way towards settling things down.

In Cooksville, Dar-us-Salaam wants to purchase the former Woodmont Academy for a new mosque to serve their growing congregation in the region. They have outgrown their current facility in College Park.  The 66 acre former Catholic school, “with buildings already in place and plenty of undeveloped land for parking and a new mosque to accommodate thousands of worshipers in the decades to come…” The site is located within a mile of the interchange of I-70 and MD Route 97.

The neighborhood isn't exactly rolling out the welcome mat.

"That's not what rural, country land on wells and septic was created for," says David Yungmann, who lives in the Carriage Mill Farms community in Woodbine, about a mile west of the Woodmont site. "We're constantly defending the rural environment, the rural zoning, which is in law."

I get that but this is place of worship, not a big box retailer, and it was previously a Catholic school not a farm. I hope the community and the mosque can come together on this.

Over in Dayton the Mullinix boys, who sold the development rights for their 490 acre farm to the state in 1984 for $450,000, are having second thoughts. In recent years they've tested the limits of the program.

“The Mullinixes have run afoul of the program a few times over the years with activities deemed non-agricultural. In 1999, they were denied a request to have a commercial landscaping business on their property, and two years ago they were forced to remove a topsoil screening machine, according to West. Last year, the foundation threatened to fine them up to $50,000 unless they shut down a second landscaping business operating from leased land on one of the farms.”

Now they've decided they want out but that’s not going to be easy. Not only do they have to prove that operating a farm on the property is not profitable, they would have to pay back the money they got from the state in today’s dollars. "Repayment is based on what the land is worth now — substantially more than it was in the 1980s — minus the value of the farming operation.“

The problem seems to the lack of flexibility in the state program versus a similar program run by the county. Howie Feaga, the head of the HoCo Farm Bureau suggested “said the state farmland preservation program could perhaps be made more flexible.”

Again, as with Dar-us-Salaam, it seems that there should be a way to accommodate the Mullinix boys and keep them in the program. The Mullinixes may be the first to rebel but unless some changes are allowed they are unlikely to be the last.
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