Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post, October 24, 2017
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.
“There are many Jewish, Christian communities — we’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Younus said.
After a nationwide search, Younus settled on River Run. With a planned mosque and views of the river, the development offered what was advertised as a “peace village” for people 55 and older.
“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.
Real estate agent Gina Pimentel filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month, claiming she couldn’t get information about the River Run units because Younus was “unlawfully privately marketing and selling only to Ahmadi Muslims.”
In an interview, Pimentel said she is not worried about Muslims living in the community, but about her business. She can’t earn a commission if she can’t sell homes, she said, and she was also concerned that lenders charging market interest rates might be cut out by Islamic rules against usury.
Younus said there were many misconceptions about the Joppatowne retirement community. River Run is open to everyone, he said, and was initially marketed only to Ahmadis because demand was high, which meant further advertising was unnecessary. Its planned mosque would now be a community center, he said.
Younus acknowledged “mistakes along the way” in marketing River Run.