The All Dulles Area Muslim Society now has the permit it needs to move ahead with plans to build a new mosque in Nokesville, following roughly three years of debate and stiff opposition from people living near the proposed building.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted unanimously in the early morning hours of June 28 to approve a special use permit for the 22,400-square-foot mosque, which would sit on a 14-acre site at the intersection of Vint Hill Road and Schaeffer Lane and hold up to 500 people. The county’s planning commission recommended last December that the board approve the permit, though only after deferring a decision following a lengthy and contentious hearing on the matter in November.
The board’s meeting Tuesday night was similarly tense, and several hundred people packed the McCoart Administration Building to both support and oppose the project over the course of the roughly nine-hour meeting.
“It’s the American dream to have a place of your own, and that includes a place of your own to worship,” Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the Muslim society’s board, said in an interview. “So this is very encouraging, and we appreciate the diligence of everyone involved. We think it can be a win for everyone.”
Congregants with the Muslim society, commonly known as ADAMS and based in Sterling, stressed that the mosque will give Prince William County Muslims a much-needed place to worship. The group currently holds services at a hotel in Gainesville, but people like Nadeem Bukhari say that doesn’t compare to having a full-fledged community center.
“Our main objective is to find a place closer to us,” Bukhari, a seven-year Haymarket resident, said in an interview. “This would be so much more convenient.”
Many other supporters framed the debate as a matter of religious liberty and tolerance, urging the board to treat county Muslims fairly and give them an equal chance to practice their religion.
“Instead of embracing our diversity as a county, too often we reject it,” said Atif Qarni, a county middle school teacher and political activist. “We’re demanding our fair share here.”
The majority of the mosque’s detractors grounded their opposition in concerns about its impact on traffic or the character of the county’s “Rural Crescent,” taking great pains to emphasize that their stance had nothing to do with any negative feelings toward Muslims. However, a handful of speakers did raise spurious claims about ADAMS’s connections to groups like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Everyone was very respectful, except for a few divergent, false comments,” Jaka said. “This community is loyal to this country, and anyone creating false suspicion about us is doing a disservice to their fellow Americans.”
The biggest sticking point in the debate was over the Muslim society’s request for access to a county sewer line, rather than installing a dedicated septic system for the building. County staff recommended that supervisors require ADAMS to use septic instead, and many Nokesville residents expressed concern that giving the mosque public sewer access would break with county policy — Prince William’s comprehensive plan currently severely restricts development in the area in order to protect its rural setting.
“You need to enforce your existing land-use policies, and protect the Rural Crescent,” said Curt Hackett, an activist with Friends of the Rural Crescent Energized, a group opposing the mosque project.
Jaka argued that avoiding the installation of a septic system would better protect the site’s trees and other natural features, but supervisors representing the western end of the county, like Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, and Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, were dismayed over the sewer connection request.
Candland believes that ADAMS didn’t present “any data or extenuating circumstances” to justify why it needed that public sewer connection, while Lawson noted that other potential suitors hoping to develop the site looked elsewhere once they learned that sewer line access is restricted in the Rural Crescent.
“Why should this board give an advantage to this applicant when other potential applicants walked away?” Lawson said.
Accordingly, she proposed approving a permit for ADAMS without a connection to public sewer. Yet At-Large Chairman Corey Stewart worried that the board might run afoul of federal law by rejecting ADAMS’s request.
After previously allowing two other churches in the area to get access to sewer lines, Stewart wondered if the board might seem to be “inconsistently” applying county policy and therefore be liable in future legal action. It took some complex procedural maneuvering, but supervisors ultimately voted 5-3 to allow the group to hook up to the sewer line — Candland, Lawson and Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, cast the dissenting votes.
“While it’s important we have guidelines, the reason we built in the ability to make exceptions is because sometimes we need to,” said Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles. “If ever we are going to make an exception, it should be for a religious institutions...I didn’t vote for this because of a potential lawsuit, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
The other prime concern from Anderson and people living near the mosque’s proposed site was the project’s potential impact on traffic congestion — county staff assured supervisors that the new facility wouldn’t adversely affect the area’s roads, but many residents living along Schaeffer Lane believe the extra traffic from mosque services could create havoc for neighbors.
Yet the project’s supporters noted that ADAMS has already agreed to adjust the time of its Friday services so worshippers aren’t caught in the traffic snarl produced by the dismissal of nearby Patriot High School.
“The fact that the mosque is willing to accommodate the needs of our school system shows they’re going way beyond what they need to do to meet the needs of the community,” said school board member Justin Wilk of the Potomac District. “I’m not sure other institutions would agree to something like that.”
But even with the special use permit in hand, Jaka notes that ADAMS has many years before it can open the mosque to worshippers. Yet, by avoiding any further delays Wednesday, he feels confident that Nokesville will be home to ADAMS someday.
“We respect the process, and God teaches us patience,” Jaka said. “I hope that this will end up making us stronger as a county, and as a community.”
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