Citizens For Walkersville – Part 1
The true story of how a small agricultural town came together against a ridiculous land use proposition. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Inc., (AMC) chose my town of 5500 residents to build their International Convention Center, and upset our way of life.
Before it was over, the world media covered it, columnists had their wishes for story material come true, the constitutional issues of freedom of religion and assembly were invoked. We even had a comparison with the KKK. Tendencies toward media bias reared their ugly head; attorneys threatened to sue us on religious grounds; and I got a thorough education in activism – and in human nature.
My family came to live on the Western edge of Walkersville, just outside the city limits, in 1999. Although we are Dearbought residents and pay City of Frederick taxes, our lives revolve around this agricultural town in what many call “God’s country.” In spirit, we are Walkersville; our children attend its great schools, we shop in town, and enjoy the sports and leisure opportunities afforded by Heritage Farm Park.
We settled here after stints in Rockville, MD, Springfield, VA, Reading, PA, and Ithaca, NY. In a position to know how others live, we chose this area not by accident. We now want to preserve its character and charm. We want the reasons we moved here to be just as viable for future generations.
And then in August 2007 came the announcements on the Town of Walkersville’s web-site.
A special exception to zoning laws was being requested by the AMC in order for them to purchase a preeminent chunk of farm, the 224 acres known by most as the Nicodemus Farm. After belonging to Hood College via a donation, it is now owned by David Moxley.
It’s a beautiful farm on high ground that dominates the eastbound entrance of town. With an original home owned by John Walker, the town’s founder, it is a fixture that maintains the heritage and spirit of the area.
Mr. Moxley had previously attempted to rezone the land for development into a housing community and has been denied. The Walkersville Planning and Zoning Board has been consistent in their efforts to keep us away from development that would produce spasmodic and unwanted growth. There is, in fact, a town code that precludes and enforces this.
A decision currently before the town Board of Appeals could rezone the Moxley farm via an exception, and allow “institutional use.”
In their application, the stated use would include: the construction of a 42,000 square foot convention building to hold an annual gathering of up to 10,000 people, parking for hundreds of cars, and a minaret 68 feet high.
The AMC would actually hold their international Jalsa Salana convention on this property. Since all of the hotels in the region amount to about 2,500 rooms in total capacity, one must assume that camping out, tents, and massive temporary facilities would be a result, paid for by an inconvenienced community that would get no benefit themselves.
Yet, I digress…
Prior to all of the above coming into play, I had already firmly established myself as an insufferable and inveterate blogger. My ramblings were already cemented to the Internet really just for my own amusement, but some items pertained to issues at hand here.
And then I got googled.
On August 20, the Ahmadiyya Muslims gave a presentation at a town hall meeting that was led by Dr. Ahsanullah Zafar. After all was said and done, and there was much expressed resistance by citizens, a podium question seemed to boil things down: “What do you offer us in return for a zoning change that would essentially devour our town?” In response…they offered us “diversity.”
A Planning & Zoning Board member, and old Cub Scout friend, found me through a search, and suggested I attend a town meeting, become more familiar, and get involved. The next thing I knew, in the parking lot behind our town hall, a group of interested individuals got activated and decided to hold an open meeting downtown in the outdoor pavilion of Creamery Park.
On August 25, a group of 50 or so, many not knowing each other but united in opposition to the zoning change, became activists and considered a platform with an accompanying strategy. The debates began. Leaders came forth and volunteers stood up.
The meeting also included spies for our opposition we found out later.
Based on a domain name purchased in advance by a volunteer, we agreed to become the Citizens For Walkersville.
The real saga was just beginning.
To be continued next Monday.
(Please note that the pertinent hearings begin on Tuesday January 8, at 7p.m., at Walkersville Town Hall.)
Steve Berryman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org