The Montgomery County board of appeals last week again delayed essential zoning hearings for the controversial Costco gas station at Westfield Wheaton shopping mall.
Hearing examiner Martin Grossman wrote it would be appropriate to push the hearings back past the scheduled June dates in light of a proposed county council bill targeting the station. In April, four council members co-sponsored the measure, which would add new language to the zoning ordinance that would prohibit a gas station of Costco’s size within 1,000 feet of a public recreation use. The Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club is within 1,000 feet of the planned Costco station.
The bill is set for public hearing June 19.
This is the fourth time the hearings have been delayed, but the first time a continuance has come at the request of the Kensington Heights Civic Association, which opposes the 16-pump station planned for the southwest corner of Westfield Wheaton’s property.
In April, Costco filed revised special exception, landscape and engineering plans as well as traffic reports and land use impacts on noise, air quality and odors, according to the order granting the latest continuance. Michelle Rosenfeld, attorney for the Kensington Heights Civic Association, said Costco did not give gas station foes enough time to examine the new information.
Grossman wrote that Costco did not violate any procedural rules but that, “A sense of fairness dictates that the first request of the opposition for a continuance must receive due consideration.”
Costco Director of Real Estate Development Erich Brann said the company had no comment at this time on the delay.
“We’re delighted and having the additional time is very helpful,” Rosenfeld said. “The result is what we care about. Whatever the hearing examiner used, we are certainly thrilled with the outcome. And frankly, fairness in his mind included the fact that they had requested a continuance three times.”
The station would be the largest in the county with an annual volume of 12 million gallons, and would be located in the parking lot of the Costco warehouse store set to open in October.
On April 25, Costco held an open house at Crossway Community Inc. in Kensington. Project consultants presented emission studies, stormwater management plans, traffic patterns and a needs study to counter community concerns about environmental and health dangers.
On April 17, County Councilmembers Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown co-sponsored the legislation that would effectively prohibit Costco’s planned station.
“We’re in the bottom half of the eighth inning,” Brann said at the open house, “and now they’ve changed the rules.”
Rosenfeld said opponents will take the time to review the new information provided by Costco in April and to find prospective expert witnesses for the hearing, in case the county council bill does not pass. The two sides are expected to agree on new hearing dates in the next few weeks, she said.