- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

The mayor of Herndon said yesterday he supports establishing a formal day-laborer center in town, despite the town’s Planning Commission’s recommendation against it.

Mayor Michael O’Reilly said problems with a proposal to open a day-laborer center next to the town’s police station can be resolved. Many residents feared that opening a center in their neighborhood would lead to problems with day laborers loitering, littering, publicly urinating and harassing women.

Mr. O’Reilly said he wants the center to work for everyone involved.

“If all we do is take the problem from one area and put it in another, that’s not success, and we haven’t solved anything,” he said.

Mr. O’Reilly’s comments yesterday came several hours after the Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the Town Council reject an application to establish such a center.

Mr. O’Reilly said the council gives weight to the commission’s recommendations, but he was quick to point out that the council does not necessarily heed all of them.

For example, the Planning Commission recently unanimously recommended for approval a site plan for an office building, but the council later rejected it.

The council is expected to take up the issue Aug. 16. If many residents want to speak at the meeting, the council may vote to continue the matter one more day.

After hearing from scores of worried residents, the Planning Commission early yesterday decided not to recommend the application filed by Project Hope and Harmony, a group of community leaders and churches seeking to curb problems with day laborers loitering at one of the town’s 7-Eleven stores.

Planning Commission member Ted Hochstein said of the more than 200 speakers, 80 percent were against the day-laborer center. The opponents submitted notarized petitions containing signatures of more than 400 families against the proposal, he said.

Mr. Hochstein said it is “frustrating” that the council “probably will” approve the day-laborer center.

“My feeling is, as an official with the town, you need to listen to the citizens, and it was pretty overwhelming against the site,” he said.

The proposal is to establish a formal center in a trailer next to the town’s police station. The police, who have outgrown the site, are expected to move this month.

The center would provide restrooms and offer English classes and social workers to day laborers, which include legal and illegal aliens.

The trailer is on town property, but no town taxpayer dollars would fund it.

Project Hope and Harmony has applied for a grant from Fairfax County and also is seeking private donations.

Planning Commission members, who issued their decision after 2:30 a.m. yesterday, listed several suggestions for the proposal.

They said organizers should consider amending their proposal to provide a van or shuttle bus to transport the day laborers out of the neighborhood on a daily basis, to prevent them from loitering in the area.

The commission also said the center’s organizers should be responsible for keeping the sidewalks clean.

Planning Commission Chairman Carl Sivertsen said he thought a formal day-laborer center would have an adverse effect on the community and that he voted against the proposal because it had holes in it.

“Collectively, it was that there were too many loose ends and a lot of questions left unanswered,” he said. “Hopefully, when they do go to council they will have better information, a better presentation and better answers.”

Joel Mills, a group volunteer who lives in Herndon, said Project Hope and Harmony is “digesting” the commission’s suggestions and the public’s comments.

“We’ll evaluate our application and see where we might want to make alterations to it,” he said.

Mr. Mills said the group members are disappointed by the vote but are encouraged because they think the establishment of a formal site would address the concerns voiced at the public meetings.

The Planning Commission’s decision came during the third public hearing held on the matter this summer. Hundreds of supporters, including day laborers, and opponents rallied at the Herndon Municipal Center during the public hearings earlier this week.

Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Judicial Watch have threatened to sue the town if it approves the day-laborer center, saying it would encourage illegal immigration.

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