by Michelle Baker,

20 August 2015

Rural Crescent graphic courtesy of Prince William Conservation Alliance

Rural Crescent graphic courtesy of Prince William Conservation Alliance

“As the afternoon sun shone on the barn rooftops and the storm clouds gathered on the horizon, community members gathered together to discuss plans for a mosque in Nokesville on Aug. 12.

“The site, which is likely to continue to generate controversy over the next few months, is a 14-acre tract of land at 12655 Vint Hill Road.

“The All Dulles Area Muslim Society, known as ADAMS, met with neighbors at the Nokesville Volunteer Fire Department last week to discuss plans to build the 22,000-square foot ADAMS Greater Gainesville Masjid and Islamic Community Center on the site.

“The Prince William Board of County Supervisors, including Supervisor Wally Covington who was present at the meeting, will have final say on whether the use fits the property.

” ‘It is pretty early in the process,” said Covington. ‘I told them early on, you are not picking the best location.’

“Covington stressed transportation is the largest issue facing the project. While repairs will be coming to Vint Hill Road in the next few years, Covington said he didn’t see anything on Schafer Lane in terms of funding.

“Prince William County has denied permission to exit onto Vint Hill Road so the mosque would front to 2125 Schafer Lane.

” ‘That’s the bigger issue,’ said the supervisor. ‘The Comprehensive Plan allows religious places of worship in the Rural Crescent.’

“The property, which at once time was assessed at $522,900, has a currently assessed market value of $232,100 according to the Prince William County real estate assessment.

“Because the property is zoned for agricultural use, owners would need an obtain a special use permit for a building of this size in the Rural Crescent. The project has been reviewed once.

“Peter Dolan, a land use and zoning lawyer, knew the issues his client were up against and came prepared. Dolan and Jonelle Sanders Walker, attorneys for Walsh Colucci Lubeley and Walsh, opened the meeting with a brief Power Point about the proposed building.

” ‘The county gave comments,’ said Sanders Walker, adding that the proposal is being revised in light of county planners’ feedback. ‘Access to Vint Hill is not going to be a possibility.’

“The property currently owned by the New Hope Christian Church of Manassas is under contract to ADAMS with a continuance clause for the special use permit. Prior to New Hope Christian Church obtaining the land in 2012, the property belonged to Antioch Church of Christ trustees.

“ADAMS board member Rizwan Jaka who serves on the board of Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, introduced audience members and shared the group’s plans before opening the floor to questions.  He and other ADAMS representatives were peppered with questions from how many women are key members to what is the religious holiday Eid.

“In the end, the meeting was primarily about homeowners’ concerns regarding property values and traffic.

” ‘It’s too small a space and we have too much traffic.’

” ‘I can’t get out of my driveway anymore,’ said a woman who lives directly across from the proposed mosque on the tiny lane that was flooded that day from the rains.

” ‘All the locals will be hosed’ announced Michael Ochs who lives on Schafer.

” ‘Why did you focus on Vint Hill and Schafer Lane,’ asked an elderly woman.

” ‘Why did you pick Nokesville?’

“Stepping up, Walker said the reason Nokesville was picked is because the land was available.

“Some 80 people, most of whom live in the immediate vicinity, engaged in a hour-long discussion over lighting, parking, traffic patterns, noise and wildlife.

“Was all of the talk really covering for the elephant in the room?

“One local woman felt so and said it.

” ‘I’m from Gainesville … Muslims are your neighbors,’ she said. ‘We live up and down Vint Hill and 29. We’re part of your community. Treat us like you would any other church … Treat us the same way.’

” ‘Treat us with less suspicion…it’s really bothering me,’ said the woman who wished to remain anonymous when asked her name later.

“The woman said while it was not said in the general meeting, she had overheard anti-Muslim remarks around her so she felt she had to speak up. ‘I didn’t say, I didn’t hear anyone say anything about Muslims,’ answered one man in the audience.

“While some of the discourse was loud with people talking over others to make their point, no one was openly disparaging about Muslims. Behind the scenes however, the woman was not alone in her assessment.

“Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the day after the meeting that he’d gotten reports that attendees had been ‘a bit biased’ and that people could be heard ‘criticizing the faith of Islam.’

“The meeting was held the same day in which a Manassas mosque was found vandalized with spray paint and a broken window.

“Police are investigating that as a possible hate crime but have no conclusive evidence that hate was a motive or that the Nokesville mosque is related.

“At the meeting itself, traffic was the primary issue for most residents.

“One woman said she didn’t need any more traffic coming through Nokesville. ‘I think it is too small a space … I hope they turn it down,’ she said.

” ‘We are at the beginning stages,’ said Sanders Walker, adding they would listen to questions and concerns and have a follow-up.

” ‘Some good questions came out of the meeting,’ said Covington referring to the timing of the schools. ‘That’s a big issue and something we need to talk a little big more about.’

“Several residents said they were already bombarded with after school traffic on Schafer Lane and they don’t like the possibility of adding hundreds of cars. The facility seats 500.

“According to information distributed to the meeting attendees, ADAMS provides religious services, education, and social activities to several thousand people a week throughout the region. The Power Point presentation described a variety of civic activities including one of the largest Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs in the metro area.

” ‘We have 300-400 families living in the area including Gainesville, Bristow, Nokesville, and Haymarket,’ stated the handouts.

“When asked about a construction timeline, the ADAMS representatives said they do not currently have the funding to build but have started fundraising. They did not give an anticipated time of occupancy. However, Covington later said the county looks at the project as if it is shovel-ready. ‘We have to make that assumption,’ he said. ‘We have to think like it’s happening virtually tomorrow.’

“Tara Slate Donaldson contributed to this report.”