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Housing for migrant workers proposed

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By John Barnhart

May Brothers, a Bedford County contractor, wants to build seven townhouse units on Hooper Road. The proposed housing units would be located next to the contractor's shop on Hooper Road and provide housing for the company's seasonal laborers.

According to David St. John, president of May Brothers, the company hires seasonal laborers who work for the company from March through December doing primarily construction labor.

"We hire hire about 20 seasonal employees," he said.

The workers come from Mexico and St. John said that they are here legally on work visas.

"We go through an extensive process to bring them into the United States every year," St. John said.

St. John said that May Brothers works through an agency that acts as an intermediary, handling paperwork and documentation.

According to St. John, May Brothers currently rents apartments in Bedford and Campbell counties to house these workers. Having them live in a facility next to the shop would provide two advantages. In the first place, the company would save money on rent because it would own the building.

The second advantage has to do with transportation. The men do not have automobiles, so May Brothers must transport them from several locations to the Hooper Road shop. If the company builds this housing, the workers would already be at the staging area for the day's job.

This proposal is a cause of concern for some of May Brothers' neighbors.

Janice Ayers, who said that she lives within walking distance of the site, said that neighbors kept seeing dirt hauled from nearby work at Jefferson Forest High School (JFHS), being dumped on the site to fill it in. They first learned about what the company planned to do when they got a letter from the county's planning department on Friday.

Ayers, a social worker with Lynchburg's department of social services, is concerned about putting these men in close proximity to a school.

"I work to keep the children in school," she said, describing her job with the Learnfare program in Lynchburg. "It really impacts me that they will put 20 men across from a school. We know nothing about these men at all."

Clyde R. Carter Jr., owns C. Ray Carter Co., an office equipment company located off Hooper Road and adjoining the May Brothers Company. It's a family business, founded by his father C. Ray Carter Sr. and has been around for 56 years.

"Our main contention is that it's not compatible with the community," he said. "These are barracks for seasonal workers."

He believes that this will lower property values and create a security issue for nearby neighborhoods.

Carter will host a neighborhood meeting on the issue at his office Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. to address community concerns about the project. According to Carter, District 4 Supervisor John Sharp and Frederic Fralick, chairman of the county's planning commission, have agreed to attend. The meeting will take place at the office of C. Ray Carter Co. Inc., at 1195 Carters Stable Road (located directly off Hooper Road), in Forest. Hooper Road intersects with Perrowville Road a short distance from JFHS.

The site of proposed migrant worker housing is currently zoned PCD (planned commercial development district). In order to build it, May Brothers must get a special use permit from Bedford County. A public hearing on the special use permit is scheduled for the planning commission's regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. Planning commission meetings are held in the Bedford County Administration Building's boardroom on the third floor.