Pig Race Plan Leads To Dirty Argument

Allan Turner, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 2, 2006

All snout and tail, the pink and brown pigs contentedly rooting in the wire pen behind Craig Baker’s stone shop seem piggishly comic. They’re racing pigs, after all, and that’s got to be funny.

But few in the sprawling subdivisions along Baker Road are laughing.

These pigs are subtle weapons, here to show the new neighbors—the Katy Islamic Association—they aren’t entirely welcome. Tension has been growing in this west Harris County community since September when the Muslim group announced it had purchased 11 acres south of Interstate 10 to build a mosque, school, community center and athletic facilities.

Hard feelings started when Baker met association officials, who, he said, advised him he should move his stone shop.

“They told me it was time for my family to pack up,” said Baker, whose family has occupied its land since the early 1800s. “They said a mosque and a marble shop didn’t go too good together.”

Angered by the perceived insult and aware of Islamic dietary laws banning pork consumption, Baker responded by announcing he would stage weekly pig races on his Muslim neighbors’ holiest day of prayer.

Since then, the conflict has escalated as residents called a town hall meeting to discuss the planned complex and an anti-mosque page featuring a cartoon pig and a running tally of terrorism victims was posted on the Internet. Numerous complaint calls have been made to county officials.

Claims and counterclaims have flown. Critics raise concerns about traffic congestion, flooding, possible adverse impact on property values and the “unknown.”

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Discounting traffic worries

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, whose precinct includes the neighborhood, discounted such concerns, and he added that large churches deal with the potential problems by hiring off-duty police officers to direct traffic.

“This is not different than having sports, musical or other special events,” he said. “They create traffic problems, that’s why you see someone out there working the traffic lights manually…. That happens all over Houston and Harris County all the time.”

Baker said he bears no malice toward Muslims, and does not object to construction of the mosque and other buildings if they comply with county codes. He charged, however, that mosque workers illegally started building a parking lot whose impermeable surface would contribute to area flooding.

County permits manager Raymond Anderson confirmed that the parking lot had been started without a permit. He said that the Islamic group has since applied for one.

Anderson said his officers have advised the Muslims about permit requirements before other construction is begun. Detention ponds to control flooding likely will be required, he said.

Baker and others have raised fire hazard concerns about religious meetings now taking place in a private residence on the 11-acre tract. But Anderson said the line separating private residences from commercial buildings is somewhat subjective.

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Baker and others have offered to buy the property from the Islamic association for more than the group paid.

“But they are just offering us pennies more,” said association board member Ahmer Feroze. Still, speaking as an individual director, Feroze said he would be willing to consider a buyout offer, providing enough money was gained to buy suitable property elsewhere.

Intensity surprising

Feroze said Muslims expected some backlash when they purchased the site, but were surprised at its intensity. He denied that his group’s officers had asked Baker to move.

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Association spokesman Yousof Allam said mosque members are puzzled by the opposition they have met.

{snip}

Baker said his pig races will begin before year’s end.

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