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As Long as We Remember...

January 14, 2008

Lessons Learned

Steven R. Berryman

I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed the quasi-legal proceedings of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Inc.’s (AMC) hearings to obtain approval of a special exception that would allow them to build a 43,000 square foot convention building in Walkersville.

From my front row seat, it is a bit hard to have hindsight, but here’s some:

At this point there has been four days of the hearings – with 18 hours into it – at Walkersville Town Hall on Frederick Street. I have derived some observations from this.

It amounts to a civics lesson in some ways, but in others it boils down to be a real-life “David vs. Goliath” story of asymmetric warfare between the interested parties.

You could never have scripted this. The AMC is invested in a positive outcome to the tune of $100,000 in legal fees and related expenses and is still counting. Being an enormous multi-national corporation with millions in available funds and operations in over 180 countries worldwide, they stand to lose much more than that in terms of their international expansion efforts should they lose the decision. This proposition is easily supported by their web site.

In the other corner are the people of the Town of Walkersville. Speaking as groups of home-owners associations and the grass-roots “Citizens For Walkersville” (CFW), resources were home grown and donated in a heart-felt fashion.

The towns people – via their groups – collected donations to support fees required by true “experts,” who made the case for the denial of the application. This was accomplished by a door-to-door awareness campaign, and a web site designed to inform the citizens, and supported by a petition signed by over 1,200 from a population of just 5,700.

The public support was overwhelming and WFMD Radio’s Bob Miller came on early in our support and took a position on his Morning News Express. People listened and called in and then attended the hearings.

Nobody but the experts got paid anything. The time investment by attorney Robert McGill, who is a pro-bono volunteer, was awesome and selfless. His brief before the appeals board was crafted in an air-tight fashion that left no doubt as to the absolute failure of the AMC application to comply with town code for an exception. He showed it to be utterly incomplete, willfully misleading as to intent, and to be completely against the best interests of Walkersville. Mr. McGill tied the experts’ findings into his 45-page brief.

The experts were fascinating to watch.

Eben Fodor flew in from Eugene, OR, to present his case. He wrote the book on correctly planned growth policy and practice in “Better Not Bigger.”

The true land-use expert undercut the application as a ridiculous attempt to take over a community through subterfuge and obvious omissions. It was a blatant attempt to use religion as a pretext to build a conference center for 10,000 and more in the middle of a small town. He exposed the effort for what it is.

Matt Storck, an engineer from STV, Inc., of Baltimore, reviewed the traffic impact of the AMC plan upon MD Route 194 and MD Route 26 and all relevant writings submitted.

His conclusion was that the application’s information on our roads was totally devoid of analysis and consequences. Traffic counts had flawed methodology. The AMC plan relied on their assumption that we would simply get the State of Maryland to add some traffic signals, place 19 lighted informational signs, and have traffic-directing volunteers at intersections.

Oh, and add a few lanes here and there. Sure! There was something about total capacity that they seemed to miss when it came to 4,500 traffic trips added to our roads for a convention of 10,000. As Mr. McGill aptly stated: “It’s not rocket science to get that concept.”

Donovon Olsen, also an engineer with STV, has a resume showing 45 years of experience as an expert on water and sewer issues. His conclusion was that the utility component of the application was not even properly addressed, and that the fundamental permits to do wastewater treatment and water supply methods have not even been processed. Hookup with Walkersville’s water is not permitted on this land as it is agricultural, and a septic system would have to be on undisturbed land. On a farm? Find me 10 or 20 undisturbed acres on a farm please!

Ed Marino is the president of Citizens for Walkersville and was confirmed to that volunteer post by an up-swell of support by those attending the formative open meetings in Creamery Park back in August. He was the “herder of cats,” so to speak, in function and coordination of the speakers. He kept everyone in line and on point.

Kevin Folk delivered the first body blow, followed by Ken Liebegott, Conrad and Jen Bangh, June Stockdale, and my favorite part, the Power Point presentation produced by MaryAnne Shouw and presented forcefully by her husband Jeff. The video clips of actual Jalsa Salana Conventions in Canada and Europe said it all, and showed yelling, chanting and screaming masses, as well as a sea of mud in efforts at temporary parking for thousands of cars.

Throughout all of this action-to-date, the Walkersville Appeals Board, led by Dan Thomas, kept an iron fist of control to assure fairness and would not permit any reference to religion into consideration by either side, to the distinct disappointment of David Moxley’s attorney Roman Storzer, who would gain much in a threatened law suit. Mr. Moxley owns the property formerly know as the Nicodemus farm.

An important lesson here is “the power of one” to accomplish much when combined with passion and the added advantage of truth in pursuit of a cause. When these come together in honest cooperation, a David can slay a Goliath.

Please refer back to my column of December 31, 2007, for the introduction to this topic.

The hearings continue today, Monday January 14, at our Town Hall with more individuals’ statements until completed.

(Editor’s Note: Mr. Berryman is a founding member of the Citizens For Walkersville and is currently its vice president and official spokesman).

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