Sterling Residents Seek Help

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dozens of Sterling area residents pleaded with the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to take steps to improve conditions in their community, where some say aging homes, a spate of foreclosures and illegal immigration have worsened crime and diminished the quality of life.

At a special board meeting at Park View High School, residents -- most of them from Sterling Park -- described a once-peaceful and pleasant community that has degraded. They complained of heavy traffic, violent crime, unkempt yards, garbage-strewed streets, graffiti-stained fences and crowded homes. They urged supervisors to take swift action to restore the community's tranquil suburban atmosphere, which they said has vanished over the past five years.

"I consider Sterling Park my home town, and what legacy will these youths grow up with?" Rose Castellano said. "Must they hang their heads with shame when someone says, 'Where do you live?' I'm so tired of being Loudoun County's stepchild."

Howard Manas, who lives in Sterling Park, said a small number of residents in the community have treated it with disrespect.

"Why can't they do what's necessary to make Sterling Park what it can be, rather than destroying what it was?" he asked.

Illegal immigration "drives all of the other stuff," resident George Jahnigen said. "It drives the condition of housing, it drives the increase in crime and gangs and it drives the overcrowding. They are all a direct consequence."

The meeting, attended by about 300 people, was the board's last before its August recess. It was part of a months-long effort to refocus attention on the county's eastern communities. Future meetings will focus on Ashburn and Dulles.

Frustration over deteriorating conditions erupted in the Sterling area last year when activists lobbied the county to take steps to drive out illegal immigrants. Republican leaders were poised to follow the lead of neighboring Prince William County, which has garnered national headlines for its efforts to curb illegal immigration.

But a Democratic majority that took office in January said immigration enforcement was not a local priority and was best handled by federal authorities. Since then, several of the Democrats have said they support improving conditions in eastern Loudoun largely through zoning enforcement.

County staff members had a series of meetings in the Sterling and Potomac communities and administered more than 500 questionnaires to hear about residents' concerns. Although the staff members are still analyzing the data, they delivered a preliminary report to the board Tuesday, with a more complete report scheduled for completion this fall.

According to the report, Sterling and Potomac area residents were pleased with many aspects of their communities, such as the quality of their schools and the proximity to shopping, job corridors, parks and other amenities. But they are concerned about crime, residential crowding and neighborhood upkeep.

"Community change" was also listed as a key concern. In recent years, the community has become "more economically and ethnically diverse," the report said. "While many appreciate this diversity, there are also many who believe these newcomers are responsible for the loss in their quality of life."

The survey was "a broad overview" and not intended to be a scientific sampling, said Michael "Miguel" Salinas, a county planner who is managing the outreach effort. According to the preliminary report, 85 percent of the respondents were older than 35, and English was the primary language spoken in 88 percent of the respondents' homes.

The outreach effort was initiated by the board in February. Eight of the nine supervisors voted in favor of the effort, but Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who represents part of the target area, voted against it.

In a news conference just before Tuesday night's meeting, Delgaudio explained his no vote by saying he had initially dismissed the initiative as "pie in the sky" and an "obfuscation" of the underlying issue, which he said is the influx of illegal immigrants. But he now supports it, he said, because illegal immigration is part of the discussion and because the community meetings are yielding immediate, rather than long-term, results.

"It's not that I have changed my position," he said. "It's that the Board of Supervisors has joined with the people of Sterling Park and Sterling."

But Board Chairman Scott K. York (I) said Delgaudio was backtracking.

"The guy's full of hot air," he said. "He did not support us coming down and talking to the communities. The facts are there."

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