This article was corrected on May 11. Please see the end of the article for more details.
Opponents of the proposed Costco gas station at Westfield Wheaton say the environmental studies commissioned by Costco are flawed.
Three Montgomery County councilmembers joined representatives from the Kensington Heights Civic Association outside the council building in Rockville Thursday morning to speak about the impact of mega gas stations and the reasons why the Costco gas station should not be sited next to the Kensington Heights neighborhood.
Montgomery County Councilmembers Marc Elrich (At-large), Valerie Ervin (District 5) and Nancy Navarro (District 4) are all sponsors of a zoning text amendment introduced in April that would prohibit large gas stations within 1,000 feet of “any public or private school, or any park, playground, or hospital, or other public use, or any use categorized as a cultural, entertainment and recreation use”. The 1,000 feet standard comes from EPA school siting guidelines. If the ZTA passes, Costco will not be able to build its gas station in Wheaton.
Costco brought its consultants and their studies to interact with community members at an open house last month in Kensington.
Dissatisfied with the reports from Sullivan Environmental Consulting, which was hired by Costco to examine potential air quality, odor and noise impacts, the Kensington Heights Civic Association found its own environmental expert, Henry S. Cole.
Cole has a scientific background in air pollution and meterology and worked on air pollution models at the EPA. “These reports that Sullivan produced for Costco have major flaws: errors of omission and errors of commission,” he said at the press conference. “The result is that their estimates of concentrations and their conclusions therefore about health effects underestimate the true impact, underestimate numerous deficiencies.”
Cole elaborated, saying that Costco had used one set of car-counting data in estimating emissions, but later providing a higher set of car numbers without updating the emissions analysis. He also pointed out deficiencies in the meterological data.
Elrich said that the more that he has looked into the science, the more convinced he has become that the gas station could be a serious hazard to public health.
“There is no certainty that it’s safe,” Elrich said. “I’m not going to make people guinea pigs.”
Elrich said that Costco’s consultants had told him that the gas station emissions would not make much of a difference because the area’s air quality was already bad.
“If that becomes our standard for protecting the public, then our future will be nothing more than an unending erosion in the health of our environment and our citizens,” Elrich said in a statement at the press conference. He added later, “I was just kind of stunned at their arguments.”
Costco has been moving through the county's special exception process for its gas station. However, last week the Montgomery County Board of Appeals granted a motion of continuance (at KHCA's request) for the special exception hearings, in order to allow the zoning text amendment to play out in the Montgomery County Council. Hearing examiner Martin Grossman has requested that both sides submit potential hearing dates by May 12. Danila Sheveiko told Patch that the KHCA is going to ask that the hearings be postponed until October.
“That’s going to give us time to work this bill and get more money,” Sheveiko said. The neighborhood association recently held a dance party to raise funds. KHCA is hopeful that the zoning text amendment will come before the council some time this summer, but Council President Roger Berliner, who sets the agenda, has not supported the ZTA, Sheveiko said.
Meanwhile, Costco is trying to gather support from its members by sending out mailings and speaking to shoppers at other Maryland warehouses.
The public hearing for the ZTA is scheduled for June 19 in Rockville.
Corrected, May 11: One of Henry Cole's quotes was corrected to read "errors of omission and errors of commission" instead of "areas of omission and areas of commission." We regret our error.