- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

The owners of a Gaithersburg shopping center said yesterday they are asking tenants and customers for their OK to add a day-laborer center.

“We’re going to be listening very carefully … to our merchants and to feedback they’ve gotten from their customers because those are the people who are at the property,” said President Randall J. Levitt of the Nellis Corp., owners of the Festival at Muddy Branch Shopping Center, off Interstate 270. “We’re not going to go forward unless we’re satisfied our existing tenants and their customers will welcome this new use.”

The Rockville-based company made the proposal earlier this week, nearly six months after city officials began looking for an alternative to the existing site at a downtown church.

Residents in the Old Town community complained that some day laborers, including illegal aliens, were engaging in such inappropriate behavior as excessive drinking and urinating outside the Grace United Methodist Church while waiting for work, so they asked city officials to move the informal site.

The announcement about the new proposed site came two weeks after Gaithersburg police began to enforce trespassing laws against the laborers. The men now gather outside a vacant building leased last year by Montgomery County that residents also rejected as a site.

The new proposal might be the last option for a center in Gaithersburg.

City Manager David Humpton said last month that he would begin to work with county officials to find a site outside the city if residents continue to reject options.

“This is sort of the last viable spot we see unless someone comes forward to offer one,” he said.

City officials in July vetoed two other potential sites after merchants and residents complained they were too close to homes, schools and businesses.

Assistant City Manager Tony Tomasello said Wednesday that his office has been bombarded with calls in support and in opposition to the proposal site, in the 200 block of Muddy Branch Road, and that the owners seeking feedback is “reasonable.”

“The property owners support the use but want to make sure the tenants agree that it will integrate well into the center, which is perfectly reasonable,” he said. “The landlords have to make their own decision. They’re taking it upon themselves to handle this personally. We appreciate them doing it, frankly.”

The Nellis Corp. has scheduled a meeting Tuesday for tenants to talk with Mr. Humpton, said Cindy Hines, Gaithersburg’s Old Town coordinator.

The City Council will seek public comment at a special work session Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Several residents said this week they will sue the city and force a recall of the mayor and the City Council if members approve the plan to help find work for the laborers.

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