Public Speaks Out

Public Speaks Out

More than 50 members of the public spoke on the record about the creation of a formal day-labor site in Herndon Monday night at a Planning Commission public hearing.

Set to review an application submitted by Project Hope and Harmony to create a formal day-labor site in town, the meeting drew a crowd of more than 200 residents.

Project Hope and Harmony is a local organization created to find a permanent solution to Herndon's day-labor issues.

Currently day workers in Herndon unofficially gather at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street each morning to find work. Residents of the area have expressed repeated concerns about the informal labor site, saying they want to see police or town officials take action to prohibit workers from gathering.

As a handful of protesters carried signs that read "No Hiring Hall" and handed out pins that expressed opposition to a formal day-labor site, the Council Chambers quickly filled to capacity.

A side room, where residents watched the hearing from a television, also filled. Residents who could not fit in either of the two rooms stood in the Herndon Municipal Center's foyer, listening to the hearing through the speaker system and glancing through windows at commissioners.

Carl Sivertsen, Planning Commission chairman, informed residents although public comment would be heard on the site application, the commission would take no action until an Aug. 1 public hearing.

Joel Mills, executive council Project Hope and Harmony, said nine residences near the proposed site Ñ the current Herndon Police station, which is located on the Herndon-Loudoun County border Ñ did not receive adequate notification of the hearing. Because town zoning code requires notification be a certain amount of time before a public hearing, the item was postponed to the commission's next public hearing.

But, because it had been advertised, commissioners allowed public comment, enforcing a three-minute time limit for each speaker.

Through the course of the more than two-hour hearing, opinions expressed for or against the site seemed balanced.

Residents against the site, including many from Loudoun County, stated safety and health concerns as reasons why they did not want a site in town. Others said they did not believe the town should support the hiring of undocumented workers.

Jim Allen, president of a homeowner's association next to the Herndon Police station, said he had concerns about pedestrian through traffic. There is a pedestrian walkway that goes through the residential district that offers a short cut to the proposed site, he said. He asked the town look into closing the walkway, to prevent the possibility of workers walking through, littering or loitering around the residential area.

Bill Smith, another concerned resident, said he was worried about a decline in his property value if a site were to open near his home, as well as safety issues.

He also said he was worried about the day laborers congregating at the 7-Eleven across the street from the site, instead of staying on location.

Phil Rapson, a 7-Eleven representative in charge of more than 80 stores in the area, assured the commission if a site were to be approved the store would enforce loitering laws.

"We plan to strictly enforce the no loitering law to help in moving them off of our site," he said. "We'll do everything we can financially to make that happen."

Residents in favor of the site said they felt nothing had been done for too long and the town needed to resolve the issue.

Ivana Fernandez, Herndon resident, said this was the only plan for a solution the town has seen. Contrary to certain beliefs, she said a formalized day-labor site in town would not bring in more workers.

"What lures people to Herndon and the United States in general is the jobs and the potential to have jobs," she said.

Abby Reyes, a Herndon High School graduate, questioned some of the negative comments being made about day-labor population.

Saying if residents were to "substitute the words 'black' or 'Negro'" into their sentences, she felt many would be "ashamed or embarrassed of their racist comments."

Planning Commissioners did not comment on the proposal other than to say residents could submit written comments to the office of community development before the next meeting. Although commissioners have not publicly indicated which way they will vote, during a June 27 work session they identified land-use issues they felt needed to be addressed.

Mills said Project Hope and Harmony has scheduled two community meetings to address citizen concerns. They will be held Sunday, July 17, at 3 p.m. at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, 432 Van Buren St. in Herndon and Thursday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m., in the Herndon Fortnightly Library located on Center Street.