A Maryland county has been accused of Islamophobia in a new lawsuit which alleges that officials are intentionally stalling construction of a Muslim retirement village.
Developers behind the controversial River Run estate, say the project has ground the a halt because Harford County have failed to issue the necessary permits on racial grounds.
County officials deny their concerns have anything to do with Islam, and insist that the developers violated fair-housing laws by only offering the new homes to followers of a certain faith.
‘The leading problem on this project is the housing discrimination,’ Maryland Del. Richard K. Impallaria (R-Baltimore County), who has held two local meetings about the development, told the Washington Post.
‘We really don’t need a group of people coming in that’s going to isolate themselves from the rest of the community — come in and do an end run around state, federal, county laws. It’s not a good way to start out as a good neighbor.’
Developer Faheem Younus, a 46-year-old infectious-disease doctor, disagrees.
Developer Faheem Younus (pictured at a community meeting to discuss the development earlier this month) claims the project was initially marketed only to Ahmadis because demand was high
‘There are many Jewish, Christian communities — we’re not reinventing the wheel here,’ he said.
Caught in the midst of the dispute are the Ahmadi Muslims – a sect of Islam who have faced persecution by other Muslims around the world – who have already purchased homes on the development before stalled county permits halted construction.
Younus had teamed up with a developer to buy the picturesque River Run development, a 35 wooded acres plot overlooking Gunpowder River, in the small town of Joppatowne, last year.
The original development for 56 homes was approved more than a decade ago but was abandoned after just four homes were built when the developer folded.
Younus had teamed up with a developer to buy the picturesque River Run development, a 35 wooded acres plot overlooking Gunpowder River, in the small town of Joppatowne (pictured)
But permits have stalled construction leaving most of the homes unfinished (pictured)
Younus was hoping to create a ‘peace village’ retirement community for Ahmadi Muslims, aged 55 and above, along with a dedicated mosque.
The plan was such a hit among the Ahmadi community, that 22 units were sold within months of Younus’ lottery for homes.
But the development’s runaway success may have been its downfall as local officials and real estate agents complained it was unfair that such popular and potentially lucrative estate was only being offered to Muslims.
Real estate agent Gina Pimentel even filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month, complaining she couldn’t earn commission on the homes because she was being shut out of the selling process as they were ‘unlawfully privately marketing and selling only to Ahmadi Muslims.’
‘It’s not about religion for me,’ she said. ‘My husband’s Puerto Rican… do you want to live with 106 Puerto Ricans?’
The few non-Muslim residents who already live on River Run after purchasing their homes from the original developer, have raised concerns.
Tony Whitt who bought his house in 2016, was worried about living next to an all-Muslim community and said he felt it promoted ‘segregation.’
Real estate agent Gina Pimentel (pictured) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month, complaining she couldn’t earn commission on the homes as they were ‘unlawfully privately marketing and selling only to Ahmadi Muslims’
Others were concerned the legal complications could lower house prices and make it difficult to sell.
Younus and the developers also clashed with locals at town meetings, where they answered questions about the project from many, and faced racist ignorance from some who challenged Younus about ‘jihad’ and insisted the Koran was a violent text.
In response, Pakistan-born Younus tried to assure the community that River Run would not be solely Muslim, explaining that it was initially marketed only to Ahmadis because demand was high.
The original plans for a mosque have now been scrapped in favor of a community center.
But many locals and officials are yet to be convinced- and the development remains stalled while it waits for permits to be approved, although authorities say they are on hold for typical issues, such as until storm water management is resolved.
‘They had a conspiracy,’ Impallaria said. ‘They already carried it out by selling homes to a select religious sect. I’m not buying their story now.’
Gemcraft Homes chief executive Bill Luther, who partnered with Younus on this development has since filed a lawsuit against Harford County officials claiming they are intentionally stalling construction ‘motivated by racial and religious animus to keep members of the Islamic faith from purchasing lots and exercising their religious freedoms.’
Gemcraft Homes chief executive Bill Luther (pictured) who partnered with Younus on this development has since filed a lawsuit against Harford County officials claiming they are intentionally stalling construction
‘I’ve never seen such discrimination,’ Luther said. ‘It’s sickening. I don’t know what the heck they are doing.’
Meanwhile, all the Muslims who have already bought property on the incomplete development can do, is wait.
Ajaz Khan, 63, and his wife Jamila said the development looked like a ‘dream come true’ when they put a $10,000 deposit down in February. But their hopes of moving in next month have been dashed by the ongoing legal battle.
Khan, who fled persecution in Pakistan after Sunni Muslims burned his family’s home and killed two cousins, lives around 1,000 miles away from the development with his wife, with whom he has five boys; three of whom work for Apple and one who served as a Marine.
They say they have no idea what they are going to do next as they, and all the other families who have invested, wait to see if they will be allowed to move into their new homes.