Wheaton and Kensington area residents and others brought questions, concerns and support to a Costco open house Wednesday on the company’s planned gas station at the Westfield Wheaton shopping mall.
Experts answered questions on issues such as air quality and traffic at the open house, which took place at Newport Mill Middle School.
The experts displayed “refreshed information” in light of the 16-pump station site’s relocation and the resulting need for Costco to file another special exemption request with Montgomery County, said Jeffrey Z. Ishida, vice president of real estate development for Costco Wholesale’s eastern division.
The planned location moved slightly eastward to sit farther away from the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club in response to a zoning text amendment that bans larger gas stations from being built within 300 feet of any school, park, playground or other cultural park.
The open house was held less than a week after county Planning Department staff released a recommendation that the company’s special exception request be denied, and about a week before a county Planning Board public hearing on the station scheduled for Feb. 28.
Ishida added that the open house was also held because there is “so much community interest” in the gas station and it would allow the company to address incorrect information in the community, such as the station’s impact on air quality.
Andrea Silva of Silver Spring, who was visibly upset, said her concerns included the amount and effect of the emissions from the large gas station and the cancer risk associated with certain hydrocarbons. She also questioned how the data to study the station’s effects was gathered.
“I feel for those families (who would live close to the station),” Silva said. “Their children would have to be exposed.”
David Sullivan, a certified consulting meteorologist whose firm conducted analysis of air quality and other factors for Costco, responded to Silva’s and others questions and concerns.
Sullivan said Costco is meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards by “a large margin” and has more control over factors such as emitted vapors than other gas stations.
“We’re using the best technology that exists right now,” Sullivan told Silva.
Wes Guckert, president of The Traffic Group, said he had talked with multiple people who asked about vehicles waiting to get gas and how long the lines would be.
Guckert said the maximum number of queuing cars expected is 45, but the station will include enough room on the site for 50 cars.
If more than 50 cars are waiting for gas, the station would not allow any other cars to join the queues, he said.
Marshall Fritz of Wheaton said he was concerned about queuing at the gas station and whether there was enough space provided for those waiting to get gas.
Other concerns of his, Fritz said, were whether the pollution analyses were based on peak traffic times, and what would happen if other local gas stations were unable to compete and forced to close, thus potentially increasing the Costco station’s traffic.
“They are giving me a reasonable evaluation of what happens,” Fritz said of the experts he had spoken with.
“I feel that the information which is presented, it’s not the whole picture,” said Andrew Korzan of Wheaton.
Korzan said he thinks it would be beneficial for the community to have a gas station close by and that it appeared from the data he had seen that the gas station would not hurt the area’s air quality.
He added, however, that he had heard about the concerns of the community near the planned site.
“I don’t want a small community to be run over by a big business,” he said.
While she also attended to learn more about the station, Kim de Groot of Wheaton said that she and her husband — who buy the bulk of their gas from Costco stations in Beltsville and Frederick — wanted to show their support for the station.
“We’d love to have our gas tax money go to Montgomery,” said de Groot, who also cited the station’s convenient location.
De Groot said she can see why the people who would be closest to the gas station are concerned, but thinks that Costco has done a good job meeting those concerns.
“I really don’t see what the big deal is,” said Anita Tuli-Kendall of Kensington, who said she supports the Costco station and lives close to the site. “There are gas stations everywhere.”
Daniel Cox of Kensington said he grew up going to the Wheaton mall and that the station is “fine and dandy” with him.
Yet with the added traffic he thinks the station will draw, his main concern is safety, said Cox, who wanted to know what the experts could say about factors such as traffic lights, speed limit signs and video cameras.
“Cheap gas attracts people like bees to honey,” he said.