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November 18, 2008

Walkersville’s Welcome Wagon

Joe Charlebois

Well, the ugly head of unforeseen consequences has reared its ugly head. The Town of Walkersville, in its determination to keep the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from building their worship and conference facilities, has ultimately broken the back – if not the pocketbook – of the Banner School family.


The Banner School has become a successful independent schooling option for parents in the Frederick and surrounding area for the past 26 years. Its current facility is housed in the 83-year-old Odd Fellows property on North Market Street, in Frederick.


With this in mind, the school set its sights on providing the students with better facilities. Over the past few years a significant level of funds has been raised to move forward with the project. The school found property on Biggs Ford Road and lobbied the Walkersville Town Commissioners to provide an exemption to the agricultural zoning regulations at that site. They were successful and were encouraged by subsequent exemptions along the way.


When the current Frederick County Board of Commissioners of Jan Gardner, John "Lennie" Thompson, David Gray, Charles Jenkins and Kai Hagen was elected in 2006, they reconsidered and reversed the previous commissioners’ decision to move forward with plans. Kai Hagen recused himself from the proceedings.


The property on Biggs Ford Road was still zoned “Agricultural” and looked as if it would for some time to come.


Then approval was given by the county this past October to move forward with water and sewage classification. This looked like a go. That was until November 12, when the Walkersville Town Commissioners put a halt to the Banner School's plans once more.


The commissioners voted down the zoning amendment (4-1) that would have allowed the plans to go forward again.


Why were the once welcoming commissioners now against the K-8 school's inclusion into the community?


Could it be because they received legal advice to do so?


Absolutely! This would have never been an issue if the AMC hadn't attempted to purchase the Moxley land? There is currently a $16.5 million lawsuit hanging over the heads of the Town of Walkersville. This lawsuit claims racial and religious bias as the reason for the denial to build on the agriculturally zoned property. If they grandfather their decision to allow Banner School to build, any chance of defending against this lawsuit would disappear.


Should the AMC been allowed to build on agriculturally zoned land? The short answer is “no.”


Should the Banner School been allowed to build on agriculturally zoned land? The short answer is “no.”


The zoning regulations state so.


The Town of Walkersville should never have approved the use of land on Biggs Ford Road for the Banner School to build on, unless they were prepared to make exceptions for other groups as well.


With the original exemption given to the Banner School, not only should it have been approved and plans carried forward, but the AMC should have been allowed to build as well.


I am not saying that the town does not have the right to zone as it wishes, but there has to be consistency among decisions.


When you make exceptions, you had better be prepared to do it again – especially when you are in the public spotlight.


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