- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Montgomery County Planning Board yesterday voted unanimously to approve plans for the county’s third day-labor center on county-owned land near the Gaithersburg city limits, despite fierce opposition from some residents.

Eighteen persons spoke at a public hearing yesterday, both for and against establishing the temporary center near Shady Grove Road and Crabbs Branch Way in Derwood.

Commissioner Meredith Wellington supported the recommendation because it addresses “a very serious public problem. It’s a temporary solution to deal with public safety and health issues.” She added that she would like the county to report back to the Planning Board with plans for a more permanent solution.

“Temporary in my view is not the same as indefinite,” she said.

Though a public hearing is required when county officials decide to change the use of public land, the Planning Board serves an advisory role. County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the final decision is up to County Executive Isaiah Leggett, who announced the proposal last month.

County resident Susan Payne, who opposes the center, encouraged the Planning Board to consider “the full range of this project, including the expenditure of tax dollars without appropriate authorization … and the secretive process in which the plan was received and executed.”

Opponents accuse Mr. Leggett of trying to sidestep the public planning process in order to change the county’s Shady Grove Sector Plan to build houses, businesses and community facilities at the proposed site.

“There was no mention of a day-labor center in the plan at any stage of its development. The concept was never brought before the citizens of Derwood, the county planning staff or the County Council,” said Brad Botwin, a longtime Derwood resident.

County officials, however, insist that the day-labor center will not affect revitalization plans.

“The proposed use is temporary in nature and will not impede implementing … a vibrant mixed-used community,” the Planning Board said.

Critics also voiced safety concerns for neighboring businesses and residential areas, as well as the nearby Shady Grove Metro station.

Commissioner John Robinson noted that there are “major barriers” such as multilane roads that would prevent workers from wandering into surrounding areas.

The day-labor centers are part of Mr. Leggett’s long-term plan to help workers establish stable careers in higher-paying jobs — a step forward in solving a problem that has plagued the county for years.

Those who support the center say day-labor centers regularize an otherwise disorderly process.

“These are individuals who want to find work; that’s ultimately what this boils down to,” said Gaithersburg resident Charles Brown. “We don’t solve issues by pretending that they don’t exist. We solve issues by looking for a workable, reasonable solution.”

The county’s other day-labor centers are in Silver Spring and Wheaton.

County planning staff estimate that 40 to 60 workers will use the new center, which is about 1.5 miles from a popular site on North Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg where laborers, mostly Hispanic immigrants, gather to seek work.

The county estimates one-time setup costs of $45,000 for the center and annual facility costs of $24,000 for trailer rental and electricity. The County Council has approved $114,730 for operational costs.

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