Planning Board gives day-labor site go-ahead
Center on Crabbs Branch Way could be open by March 1
The county Planning Board Thursday night endorsed the plan for Montgomery County’s third day-laborer center, which will be set up in temporary trailers on a county-owned lot between Gaithersburg and Rockville.
A condition of its unanimous approval was that County Executive Isiah Leggett define ‘‘temporary” as soon as possible and that the county monitor the Grove Shopping Center, located across from the center on Shady Grove Road, to make sure it doesn’t become an alternate hiring site.
The Planning Board’s hearing was the only public review of the plan.
The board’s support ‘‘delighted” Leggett, who said he is anxious to complete work on the location and shelter for day laborers. Officials are hoping for a March 1 opening.
‘‘I think we can now move forward,” he said Friday. ‘‘Given the inclement weather out here, the coldness and the challenges that people are facing hanging around on street corners ... I’d much rather move sooner than later to get this done.”
The county has said start-up costs for the center are $45,000. It will cost $24,000 annually to operate it.
Thursday night, the Rev. David Rocha, an advocate for day laborers in Gaithersburg, called the center a ‘‘victory for humanity” that was ‘‘bringing real solutions to our neighborhoods.”
He told the board that the workers had agreed to use the proposed site. ‘‘We’d like to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said. ‘‘We ask ourselves what we can do for the community in return for what the community has done for us.”
Several of those in the audience Thursday listened to the proceedings via a Spanish translation offer on headphones as more than half of the 15 residents who testified opposed Leggett’s plan, unhappy that it is moving fast without time for more public scrutiny.
‘‘It seems to be clear that the die is already cast, and today’s meeting is merely a forced courtesy,” Gaithersburg resident Demos Chrissos said.
The Planning Board’s opinion in the mandatory referral review is not binding.
One speaker, David Asdorian of Silver Spring, challenged the board to reject the proposal, citing the legal issue of public financing of a center that will be used to support the employment of illegal immigrants.
‘‘The county can continue to play the charade, but the fact is, you folks could know — you should know — that it’s going to be used for illegal activity,” he said.
Planning Board chairman Royce Hanson responded that illegal immigration is not under his group’s authority.
‘‘No matter what we think ... there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.
But as for what the board can address — the center’s appropriateness to that location and questions of traffic and access — the board pressed county officials for information.
In becoming the county’s third day-laborer center, the half-acre lot on Crabbs Branch Way will have a significant distinction from the two existing centers. The Silver Spring and Wheaton centers, which opened in 1991 and 2005, respectively, were set up at the locations where workers and employers routinely gathered.
The Crabbs Branch location is two miles from the Gaithersburg site where such gathering has occurred, leaving county officials and center advocates with a long checklist of details to work out.
Key issues are transportation to the site for the workers and getting the contractors and others doing the hiring to travel to the center.
At the hearing, representatives of Casa de Maryland, which has been selected as the contractor to run the center, said the group would transport the workers from Gaithersburg to the new site for one month. Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz has vowed the city would do whatever it can to help.
Casa and the county have not yet finalized a contract. At issue is the range of services Casa will provide with the $115,000 that the county has budgeted for operating the center.
The center will feature Casa’s centerpiece employment program already provided at the Silver Spring and Wheaton facilities, but will be offer fewer services than the downcounty centers.
Workers using the center will receive Casa identification cards, lawyers will be on hand to help workers recover unpaid wages and Casa staff will provide referrals to a range of county health and social services.
‘‘The last piece that we heard is that there’s not going to be funding for the English classes in the center, but we’re really trying to figure out how to include that down the line,” Casa Advocacy Director Kim Propeack said Monday.