JOPPATOWNE, Md. — Dueling legal complaints and allegations of Islamophobia have marred an unfinished retirement community in Maryland after homes were sold only to Muslims.
Planners say interest in the River Run development was strong before stalled county permits halted construction. Some elected officials and residents complained that the community violated fair-housing laws.
Stuck in the middle are Muslims who put down deposits to live in the quiet neighborhood overlooking the Gunpowder River — and non-Muslims who already live there.
The River Run development is slated for about 35 wooded acres in Joppatowne, Md., a community of about 12,000 people 20 miles northeast of Baltimore. More than 56 homes were approved for the lot more than a decade ago, but the project fell into disrepair after just four homes were built when a previous developer folded.
Then, last year, 46-year-old Faheem Younus, an infectious-disease doctor and an immigrant from Pakistan, teamed up with a different developer to build a retirement community for older Ahmadiyya Muslims, adherents of a branch of Islam who preach tolerance and face repression from other Muslims around the world.
“This will be a community of 49 spacious brand new homes (Villas) for Ahmadi Muslims with a dedicated mosque within walking distance,” read a website this year advertising the community. That language was later removed, replaced with an update that touted an “audio feed from the adjacent mosque” for the daily call to prayer — before that language also was removed.
The plan to market to Muslims proved successful, Younus said, and 22 units were sold within months after a lottery was held among Ahmadis who wished to buy them.
Some elected officials and residents, however, complained, saying the planned community violated fair-housing laws. Others questioned whether their town should open its arms to a neighborhood initially designed for Muslims.
At several town hall meetings, Younus and two fellow Ahmadis responded as about 25 residents asked about mortgages, diversity and Islam.
The meeting occasionally grew heated. One man wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt challenged Younus about the definition of “jihad.”
“Jihad is a war on the infidel, and I am the infidel,” he said. (The man declined to give his name to The Washington Post, calling it the “lying press.”)
“I have some trepidations, I admit it,” said David Miceli, 71, wearing a blue “Las Vegas” hat to honor the victims of the mass shooting there. “But the man looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m telling you the truth.’ I have to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
But Pat McLaughlin, 81, worried Younus was “pushing an agenda.”
“He never answered my question,” she said. “Why did they sell them in secret?”
That question is part of a lawsuit that Gemcraft Homes chief executive Bill Luther, the developer who worked with Younus, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Maryland against Harford County officials. It alleges the county stopped issuing building permits for River Run, halting construction and complicating the sale of existing homes purchased by Muslims.