Some Gaithersburg residents have asked the city and Montgomery County to reconsider a decision to place a day-laborer center near their homes.
The county signed a lease over the summer to run the center out of a building on North Frederick Avenue off Route 355. Officials expected the center -- a place where day laborers would gather to seek work and take English language classes -- to begin operating this fall, but the need for more extensive renovations has delayed the opening.
A group of residents from the surrounding area plans to meet with city officials next week to ask them to choose a location in an industrial or commercial area rather than a residential neighborhood. The residents said they were shut out of discussions about what will be the county's third day-laborer center.
"The city of Gaithersburg has chosen a site for a day-laborer center without any input from the community," said Clark Day, a photographer who lives near the site. "They did not have any public hearings. They just plopped this thing in our yard, in our community."
The city and county began discussing the need for an employment center in Gaithersburg last year because dozens of men were gathering each morning in the parking lot of Grace United Methodist Church, a couple of blocks from the building the county has leased. A committee with representatives from the county and city government, churches, the police department and other agencies was formed to discuss opening a center.
City officials said yesterday that they probably should have had a public forum, but they said the committee meetings were publicized and open to anyone. "We probably should have done this earlier," Fred Felton, assistant city manager, said in reference to next Tuesday's community meeting at Grace United Methodist.
But Felton said the location made sense because the workers were gathering near there anyway. "The bottom line is, from where they're currently gathering to the location we selected, it's 418 feet," he said.
County officials said they are proceeding with plans to open the center.
"We've made a decision. The county is going to go forward with this," said Catherine E. Matthews, director of the county's Upcounty Regional Services Center. "We're certainly willing to answer questions, but the city and the county did enter into a partnership along with other members of the community to get this done."
Day said about 15 people attended a recent gathering of concerned residents. He said he expects a larger turnout at next week's hearing.