School's dorm proposal has neighbors worried

It would be too much like group home, some say

September 29, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

An Islamic school wants to build a small dormitory in Woodlawn. But in an area with the highest concentration of homes for foster children and disabled and troubled youths in Maryland, a boarding school for 20 teenage boys sounds too much like a group home to some community leaders.

"We don't know where these kids are coming from," said Van Ross, president of the Woodlawn Community Education and Development Association. "We don't know if they are troubled young people or what. How would you like a dormitory or a group home next to your house?"

A zoning hearing on the religious school's plans, originally scheduled for Monday, has been postponed, in response to a request by County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver and community leaders, who have expressed concerns about the proposal and said they want to learn more about it.

The school, Darul Uloom Maryland, is seeking approval from Baltimore County to build a dormitory for 15 to 20 students.

A lawyer for the organization, Francis X. Borgerding Jr., said the boarding school would be different from the group homes that have caused crime problems and disruptions in some northwest Baltimore County communities.

"We're not dealing with problem kids," said the school's principal, Irfan Kabiruddin. "This is a private religious school. We will take only select students, and they must come from strong backgrounds and good families."

The school received permission to open in the large stone house at Dogwood Road and Gwynn Oak Avenue under county regulations, but it must obtain approval before it can build a dormitory, county zoning officials said.

Such approval - called a special exception - is granted when a property owner can prove a "practical hardship" such as trying to avoid a wetland or to improve the design of a building, said Donald T. Rascoe, deputy director for county permits and development management.

The school opened in 2005 but suspended classes last year. The plan is to accept 15 to 20 students who would live in the dormitory - a converted carriage house - and to accept five to 10 students who live nearby, Kabiruddin said.

The male students in the dorm would range in age from 9 to 20, he said.

They would study religion and academic subjects, Kabiruddin said.

In addition to approval for the dormitory, the school is seeking permission to bypass two other county regulations, one for building setback requirements and another for the width required for driveways.

Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who organized a meeting with residents this week about the boarding school, said, "We don't want to appear that we are anti-Islamic. But we don't want any more group homes in our district."

As of last year, about two-thirds of the approximately 500 group homes in Maryland were in Baltimore County. Most are in Randallstown, Woodlawn and elsewhere in the northwestern part of the county.

In letters to county officials, neighbors of the boarding school said they are also concerned about businesses being allowed to open in residential areas and about possible disruptions of what they describe as a quiet, peaceful area.

"Please," one resident wrote to county officials, "don't disturb a good thing."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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