Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Residents of Gaithersburg’s historic district are irritated by day laborers who loiter in their neighborhoods of 100-year-old homes.

But they are outraged over plans to provide a shelter for the laborers, many of whom are illegal aliens, on a main street in Olde Towne.

“That’s not what I want to the entrance of my historic community, which has more stringent rules and regulations than normal communities,” Clark Day said. “That’s not why we moved here.”

Mr. Day and other residents plan to meet tonight to discuss the plans, which they say violate city code because they were not discussed publicly.

They plan to address the issue Oct. 17 before the City Council.

Other jurisdictions in the D.C. area have grappled with ways to deal with day laborers.

In Wheaton, residents clashed with Montgomery County officials about a center that recently opened.

Herndon residents disagreed with town officials’ decision last month to spend tax dollars on a center to keep day laborers from loitering near a 7-Eleven store.

The day laborers in Gaithersburg wait most mornings in Grace United Methodist Church’s parking lot, where they urinate, drink and catcall women who visit the shopping center next door.

Mr. Day said he awoke one day at 6 a.m. to find a laborer showering in his driveway with his hose.

Dan Searles said he and other residents are not opposed to immigrants living in the community, just the city’s failure to inform them about the center.

They said Gaithersburg officials led them to think that retail shops and condominiums, not a day-labor center, would be developed at the site under the city’s master-plan.

Residents said they had read newspaper articles about the proposed Gaithersburg Upcounty Employment Center but were shocked to learn last month that it was being built downtown, at Route 355 and Brookes Avenue.

Discussions about getting the day laborers off the streets started last year, but did not include residents.

Montgomery County hosted informal meetings for city officials, police, church administrators and merchants from the shopping center. Mayor Sidney A. Katz was the only elected official invited. No City Council members were present, but City Manager David Humpton attended at least one meeting, said the Rev. Lou Piel, the senior pastor at Grace.

Mr. Piel said the meetings were never closed, but he regretted not asking for community input.

The group decided that Montgomery County, which established the Wheaton center and a center in Silver Spring, would form the lease. Gaithersburg would renovate the building, and Casa of Maryland, nonprofit advocates for Hispanics and immigrants, would operate it.

The city originally agreed to spend $20,000 to renovate the building, but problems with the roof have increased the cost to $100,000 and delayed the opening.

Mr. Humpton said a master plan is a vision for the city, not a law, and that the Planning Commission must approve a zoning change to build the center. A hearing is expected in November.

The city made its first public presentation on the center last month. The county and city governments will answer questions at an informational meeting Tuesday at the church.

Residents acknowledge that action must be taken but say this plan will devalue homes and crowd their narrow streets.

Council members say they understand the concerns but have a responsibility to create a safer environment.

“This is the best alternative,” Mr. Humpton said. “We just feel like it’s a better situation than having no supervision at all.”

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