Homeowners near the Westfield Wheaton shopping mall are gaining the support of the Montgomery County Council in the fight against Costco’s proposed nearby gas station.
Members of the Kensington Heights Civic Association, long opposed to the 16-pump station Costco hopes to build near its coming warehouse store, presented analysis Thursday from Dr. Patrick Breysee, a Johns Hopkins University public health professor. Breysee, based on research of studies in Greece and Spain, concluded that if the gas station is built, the community would be exposed to an excess amount of benzene, a carcinogen that the studies linked to leukemia.
“This is not just a dispute between one private landowner and a group of other private landowners,” said Larry Silverman, an adjunct professor of environmental law at Johns Hopkins and an advisor to the association. “It’s a major public health issue. It’s hard to imagine a worse situation than we have here.”
Friday, councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said he plans to introduce a zoning change in the next few weeks that would make it more difficult to build gas stations in close proximity to residential communities, recreation centers or schools.
The gas station, which must get an exception from the county Board of Appeals in May, would attract as many as 55 vehicles at a time and have an annual gasoline volume of 12 million gallons, making it the busiest in Montgomery County, according to a Costco presentation to residents in October.
A Costco official could not be reached for comment.
After reaching out to council members with Breysee’s analysis in March, association members Danila Sheveiko and Abigail Adelman had a press conference Thursday at the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club near the proposed Costco site, south of Veirs Mill Road and University Boulevard. The Costco itself is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“I’m disenchanted and disenfranchised, personally,” said Sheveiko, who has asked the council to convene in its role as the county Board of Health to discuss the issue.
“It is a possibility,” Elrich said. “I think it’s covered either way. I think mega gas stations next to residential communties are not a good idea period, whether you use zoning or the Board of Health to act.”
Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring also is opposed to the gas station.
“I think the idea of putting a huge gas station that will create a long line of idling vehicles right next to an neighborhood and a swimming pool is utterly abhorrent,” Riemer said. “It’s bad for environmental and public health plans. I think it’s bad from the perspective of the long term future of the urban core of Wheaton, which needs to become a place where walking and biking is more common.”
At the October meeting, Costco director of real estate development Erich Brann presented a vehicle emission study from the Wheaton site and Costco’s existing gas station in Sterling, Va., that indicated the vapors emitted from the station would not be harmful to residents.
“The worst-case scenario is the gas station would increase odors in the neighborhood very slightly, if any at all,” Brann said.
Silverman said a Costco gas station, 50 yards from the closest homes and 100 yards from the swim club, would be the first of its kind and open similar communities nationwide to large stations at Costco. He called on the county to perform a full environmental impact study, though it is not required by law.
“The county has chosen not to know facts,” Silverman said. “We’re trying to put the facts before them.”