Lisa Cotton said last year’s uproar over a proposed mosque in Spotsylvania County was embarrassing.
“There was a lot of xenophobic behavior that was not something we endorse,” added her husband, Jim Cotton.
But the couple worries that a new plan to build 19 homes, rather than a mosque, at the corner of Andora Drive and Old Plank Road will create a traffic nightmare. They live in the Ashleigh Park subdivision, which is adjacent to the 10-acre property under discussion.
A year after facing an anti-Muslim backlash that drew national attention, Islamic Center of Fredericksburg trustee Samer Shalaby is backing off plans to build a larger mosque across from the Chancellor Community Center. Now he hopes to sell the land to a homebuilder and use the proceeds for an addition at the existing mosque on Harrison Road.
The Cottons and about 15 other residents attended a meeting this past week to hear about the Islamic Center’s rezoning proposal to increase the number of homes that could be built on the Old Plank Road tract from three to 19. A sheriff’s deputy attended the meeting, but did not have to intervene.
Most attendees calmly expressed concerns about traffic, not religion—a far cry from a meeting last November about a proposed mosque at the site. A sheriff’s deputy halted that meeting after tensions flared and a man proclaimed, “Every Muslim is a terrorist.”
At the most recent meeting, Chris Hornung, vice president for engineering and construction for the Fredericksburg-based Silver Cos., gave a presentation on behalf of the mosque. Shalaby used to work for Silver.
“I’m helping out simply because I’ve done these, and the meeting last year didn’t go real well,” Hornung said.
He said Silver Cos. would not be involved in the development of the land if the Board of Supervisors approves the rezoning.
But Silver does own about an acre that the mosque needs to buy to expand its current site across State Route 3 from the Harrison Crossing shopping center. Silver is asking supervisors to lift a requirement that the property be developed as retail space.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Center has not yet submitted a rezoning application or determined what it would contribute toward road improvements. Hornung acknowledged that Andora and Old Plank need work, but said a single developer could not address all of the problems on its own.
“I can tell you that most of those solutions that I can think of as an engineer are not going to be cheap,” he said. “But certainly a development can contribute towards it and can be a catalyst towards getting something done.”
In a brief interview, Shalaby said the meeting went well and called those who attended “the true neighbors.”
“Obviously the traffic issues are here whether we move forward with this or not … but we’re hoping that this might be the catalyst just to start everybody paying attention to it,” he said.
Still, the Cottons worry any development will make an already bad traffic situation worse. In the morning, Lisa Cotton said, she can’t even turn left onto Old Plank Road because of all the cars.
She said she doesn’t think a mosque or more homes is a good fit for the site, but that religion never had anything to do with her concerns.
“There’s actually less of an impact road-wise with the mosque,” she said.
“That’s the ironic part of this whole thing,” added her husband.” “If you flipped it and had the mosque back there, then you’d curry up those [xenophobic] sentiments again.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402