Walkersville Muslim Center Hearing–Day 2
Last night’s continuation of the hearings by the Walkersville Board of Zoning Appeals concerning the construction of a retreat center by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on the old Nicodemus farm property, hear testimony from groups opposing the center and focused heavily on traffic, roads and sewer systems. There are already hints among the Board members of where they may come down on the final decision.
Board Member Vaughn Zimmerman questioned the ability of a single left turn lane on the road (MD Route 194) leading in to Walkdersville would accomodate the increased traffic during the large annual event expected:
Board member Vaughn Zimmerman asked about a left turn lane into the property and how 5,000 to 10,000 people attending Jalsa Salana could safely get to the festival.[AMC Expert Michael] Workosky suggested area law enforcement stand on the highway to direct traffic and signs be positioned near the site alerting drivers of the festival.
“How the heck does that work with people going 65 mph?” asked board chairman Dan Thomas.
After many in the crowd laughed, Thomas added, “I’m not trying to be funny. It’s a horrible situation on Md. 194.”
“One more vehicle than what is already out there is going to make it unsafe,” Zimmerman said.
Having traveled route 194 regularly since the mid-1990’s I can tell you that the interesection of Route 194 and Route 26 (where the Nicodemus farms sits) is not a particularly well-planned intersection and its proximity to the Monocacy River and the Ceresville Mansion (a historic landmark) makes altering the site and intersection complicated. But as I pointed out yesterday, a solution where the traffic for the center comes off of U.S. Route 15 rather than route 194 might make more sense. Yes, the river has to be traversed, which will require a new bridge, but I think the town could reasonably insist on the AMC footing a large portion of that bill in exchange for the zoning exemption.
On interesting item that came up as well is the tax impact. Currently as a privately held farm, the owner David Moxley pays a property tax on the farm. But if the AMC were to take the property, the fear is that the town will lose that tax revenue because of a provision in the tax code exempting religiously held properties from paying taxes. Honestly, I think this is a spurious argument at best. What ever is lost in tax revenue from the lost property tax will be made up by the revenue related to the facility, particularly the annual convention. If this is the quality of argument that is being made, the opponents may have a tougher slog than anyone thought.
Still, there are real problems with the center and one is created by a conflict between Frederick County and the town of Walkersville–the sewer system. One expert testified that the county will not permit the AMC to hook up to the public sewer systen, but the town code requires all properties use the public sewer system. I am not sure what the deal is with the county (the town’s rule seems imminently more sensible), and right now the AMC is considering a private septic system. Of course, with 10,000 people using the facility at the same time during a brief period, the private septic system could get overwhelmed.
The hearing will continue tonight and tomorrow night as well.
Crossposted at Going to the Mat