Costco gas station opponents continued their fight against the 16-pump station planned for Westfield Wheaton shopping center on June 19 at a packed Montgomery County Council public hearing.
A growing number of proponents, spurred by a Costco mailing campaign to area members, joined them. The hearing was on a proposed zoning text amendment that would prohibit large gas stations within 1,000 feet of a school or public recreation use.
Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, introduced the ZTA in April with support from four other council members after residents from the nearby Kensington Heights Civic Association brought up a number of environmental and health concerns.
The station, which with an annual gasoline volume of 12 million gallons would be the largest in the county, would be built within 1,000 feet of the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club and about 1,300 feet from the Stephen Knolls School for special needs students.
But gas station supporters, such as Kensington Heights resident Katja Dullock, argued community fears over the station were exaggerated. Dullock, a Costco member, wore a yellow button that urged the council to vote against the amendment, ZTA 12-07.
“The site already has a huge big green section between the houses and the swimming pool,” said Dullock, who said she drives to the Costco gas station in Beltsville two times a week. “This bill is singling out one single company. I don’t see why they’re doing this.”
Costco officials again argued that carbon monoxide, noise and odor studies required by the county’s special exception process proved the station would not pose a health risk. Costco Director of Real Estate Development Erich Brann said the company sent out a mailer with a response card seeking support from Costco members. Costco hired a public relations firm and its representatives presented boxes with more than 5,000 response cards in favor of the gas station.
Mayorga Coffee President Martin Mayorga testified on behalf of Costco because of concerns over legislation he said unfairly targeted a business. Mayorga does demonstrations at area Costco stores.
“I’m very concerned about legislation put in place to specifically impede projects that under current regulations would be able to move forward,” Mayorga said. “It’s a major concern for any business owner.”
Larry Silverman, an adjunct professor of environmental law at Johns Hopkins and an advisor to the Kensington Heights Civic Association, told the council that the current zoning laws were outdated and unable to deal with issues brought by mega-gas stations.
“The basic issue is whether we want to permit mega-gas stations the same way we permit other stations,” Silverman said. He said the 10-foot green buffer between the gas station site and the neighborhood and pool was not enough.
At the council’s regular session on June 19, council members asked county Health Officer Dr. Udler J. Tillman for an assessment of how the station would affect the surrounding community. Tillman said her office has asked the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to confer on the issue.
Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, who chairs the county’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, said her committee would be willing to wait to discuss the bill until Tillman can provide more information. The committee is scheduled to discuss ZTA 12-07 on July 9.