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Whose Backyard?

Laborer Site Moves Forward

At the request of Reston Interfaith, the Herndon Planning Commission granted a 60-day deferral on the conditional-use permit for a temporary day-laborer site at the old lumber yard. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to talk about Monday night.

After more than two and a half hours of testimony, the commission approved a zoning code text amendment that spells out which parts of town such a site can be placed. In doing so, the commission also eliminated two of the eight sites under staff review, while two others — the police/public works shop site and the old lumber yard — are in danger due to construction plans.

Afterwards, the commission heard testimony for another 20 minutes concerning the conditional-use permit application even though it was deferred until October.

"Would you want this in your backyard?" asked David Watson, a Nash Street resident. "I would ask you before you vote on this for any site ask yourself, would you want it in your backyard?'

KERRIE WILSON, executive director of Reston Interfaith, the organization tapped to create and oversee the day-laborer site, requested the deferral on the application, she said, because there was still too much "confusion and misstatements of facts" within the community.

"I think the town meeting [in July] showed there is still a lot of issues that need to be resolved," Wilson said. "Our application before you for the lumber yard is part of the confusion because you are still trying to put the meat on the bones."

The town's planning staff is investigating eight possible sites, including the old lumber yard located at 601 Monroe St., said Henry Bibber, director of community development for the town.

The text amendment approved by the commission will permit a temporary facility, for two consecutive years with the option to renew on a yearly basis for an additional three years, in the IG or industrial; R-10 or residential; C-2 or commercial, and IP or industrial park districts. It also allows for only one site to be operated at a time, which would require the informal 7-Eleven site on Elden Street to shut down once the temporary facility is up and running. In addition, Commissioner Jay Donahue was able to successfully require the site to be at least 1 acre in size. However, he failed in his attempt to remove the IP and R-10 districts from the list of possible locations.

"Why are we limiting anything?" asked Commissioner Paul LeReche before voting to keep in all the recommended zones.

HOWEVER, the town's choices may be dwindling regardless of zoning. Should the Town Council follow the commission’s recommendation, two sites are automatically eliminated from consideration — Alabama Drive Park and the Paul Brothers parking lot — because the zoning districts governing those lots were not included in the code amendment.

In addition, two others — the police/public works site and the old lumber yard — are most likely going to be developed in little over a year.

While Wilson said she had not been informed of any changes by the owners of the lumber yard site, Herndon Neighborhoods LLC, Commissioner Ted Hochstein said he was told by the president of Herndon Neighborhoods that it is currently putting together a zoning ordinance text amendment application and hopes to build within 12 to 15 months. In addition, Van Buren Street resident Bernie Miller said she received a letter from the ownership informing neighbors of its intent to develop the property soon.

"I received a letter from Stanley Martin saying they're intending to develop this property in 12 to 15 months. They never had the intention to let anyone use it for five years," Miller said.

In addition, Commissioner William Tirrell said the police/public works site, which was favored by several residents and some commissioners, will soon be off the table as well.

"At the police station, they’re getting ready to move dirt in 10 months. Once that happens, nothing is going there."

REGARDLESS of what zones were approved for the facility, many speakers Monday night said the town shouldn't be pursuing a day-laborer site. Some said the town has trouble enforcing the various ordinances already on the books, while others expressed concern over raising crime rates and the influx of "illegal" immigrants as well as the government's unwillingness to enforce immigration laws. Others expressed concerns over responsibility and liability of the site and for the workers seeking jobs there.

"You can obviously hear the passion in everyone's voice," said Mario Vasquez, a former illegal alien and now United States citizen. "What I'm hearing is there are a lot of issues going on here — whether it's a day-laborer site, crime rates, unenforced ordinances. ..."