Mega-gas stations will not be banned from Montgomery County, but also will not be as separated from recreational uses as some council members had hoped.
Montgomery County Council members unanimously approved Tuesday an amended version of zoning text amendment 12-07, proposed in April by Councilman Marc B. Elrich that restricts gas stations with more than 3.6 million gallons of annual volume from locating within 300 feet of the lot line of any public or private school, park, playground, day care center or outdoor use categorized as cultural entertainment or recreation.
Elrich proposed the zoning rule after residents expressed health fears about a 16-pump gas station proposed for a Costco under construction in Wheaton. Elrich first proposed a 1,000-foot buffer between gas stations and certain uses. The council compromised at 300 feet.
“It is not perfect, it is not as much as I would have liked, but I think it’s an important step going forward, and I'm willing to do this in the effort to get a bill out of this council,” said Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park. At 1,000 feet, Elrich said his bill only had four votes.
On July 18, a county attorney offered an opinion that the 1,000-foot rule violated the U.S. and Maryland constitutions. Clifford Royalty, the county’s chief of the Division of Zoning, Land Use and Economic Development, said the legislation would constitute illegal spot zoning because the change only would apply to a station at the Costco.
The Costco station at Westfield Wheaton shopping mall would be the county’s largest, with an expected annual volume of 12 million gallons. It would be within 1,000 feet of the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club near University Boulevard.
The council's vote Tuesday sends Costco back to the drawing board for its application to put a large gas station at the site, said Jeffrey Z. Ishida, vice president and director of real estate development for Costco Wholesale’s eastern division.
“Basically, the application as it’s in now, does not comply with this," he said. “Can we live with it? We will have to figure that out.”
The company was expecting to apply for a special exception in October. That might be difficult, he said.
When Costco put its application in, Elrich said he knew it was a big gas station.
It wasn’t until he started researching pollutants that he came to believe that pollution really was a problem, he said.
“The idea that somehow their profits are more important than the public health, that doesn’t sit well with me,” Elrich said.
Elrich said he would like to revisit the zoning language in the future to consider adding residential uses to those listed as requiring a buffer from large filling stations.