- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

The owners of a Gaithersburg shopping center yesterday pulled out of a deal to lease space for a day laborer center, citing disapproval from other businesses in the complex.

Richard Levitt, chairman of the Nellis Corp., which owns the Festival at Muddy Branch Shopping Center, met yesterday with about two dozen tenants to discuss the proposed day laborer center.

“They felt this would be harmful to their businesses, to their sales,” Mr. Levitt said after the meeting. “We have a responsibility to the investors.”

City officials yesterday said they respect the company’s decision. Officials have tried to find a site for the center for more than a year.

Earlier this month, the Gaithersburg City Council voted 3-1 to endorse the Festival site, allowing Montgomery County officials to seek a lease with the company.

“Nellis Corp. did a great job researching whether it could get done but couldn’t overcome tenant resistance,” Assistant City Manager Tony Tomasello said.

The Festival shopping center is the latest in a string of nearly three dozen sites that property or business owners have rejected for the day laborer center since April.

City officials last year began searching for a place to open a county-funded center that would curb resident complaints about loitering and public urination as laborers looked for jobs outside Grace United Methodist Church.

Since last month, about 50 to 100 laborers — many of them Hispanic illegal aliens — have gathered outside a vacant building leased last year by the county that residents also rejected as a site.

Several Festival business owners said during an Oct. 12 meeting that they feared the center would increase crime and littering, impede traffic and produce the nuisances that have occurred outside the church.

Mr. Tomasello said officials immediately contacted county officials to decide the next step.

City Manager David Humpton said last month that the Festival site was likely the last viable option and they would have to look outside city limits.

Mr. Tomasello yesterday said “clearly, that’s going to be at least one of the options.”

Officials said they would discuss the next step at the Nov. 6 city council meeting.

“It’s certainly been frustrating for everyone, but it’s not an issue we can just walk away from,” Mr. Tomasello said.

County officials said they remain committed to funding a center.

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