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Costco Connects Gas Station Consultants with Community

Kensington Heights residents remain concerned about air quality and the future of the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club.

The format of Wednesday night’s open house surprised some attendees. Instead of a central focus with back-and-forth debate about Costco’s proposed gas station, community members drifted from table to table, asking questions of independent consultants hired by Costco.

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Everything on display in the large meeting room at had already been submitted in Costco’s special exception application, Director of Real Estate Development Erich Brann said. The real difference came in Costco’s opportunity to match experts in traffic, stormwater management, air quality, and landscape architecture with individual community members to address specific concerns.

“The purpose of tonight is to educate,” Brann said. “That’s why it’s set up like an eighth-grade science fair.” Brann added that Costco had “not had good luck” with past presentation-style meetings with the community,

“We wanted to do this on a one-on-one basis,” said Jeff Ishida, vice president of real estate for Costco’s East Coast division.

The mantra repeated by Brann and Costco’s legal counsel, Pat Harris, as they circulated the crowd was that the Costco gas station “will have no adverse effect on the community.”

“That’s the burden that we need to prove,” Harris said.

Costco faced a tough audience.

Larry Silverman, an adjunct professor of environmental law at Johns Hopkins , brought students from his environmental policy and action class to the open house.

“I think the more people learn about this gas station, the less likely it is to be built,” Silverman said. “This is their charm offensive, but it’s going to fall on the facts.”

Viviane Pescov, a Kensington Heights resident for 45 years, said that if the community’s money will be spent shopping at the new Costco, then the corporation should make a gesture toward the community by not pushing the gas station. That’s what she told them at last fall’s community meeting: “I said, ‘Costco, I love your chocolate cake, but please don’t bring your gas station.’”

Challenges Posed by Zoning Text Amendment and Special Exception Process

Earlier this month, Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice that, if approved before the Costco gas station gets its building permit, would effectively block construction.

David Glass, who lives in Kensington Heights, is concerned about air quality and environmental hazards.

“I have no doubt that Costco builds good gas stations,” Glass said. “I just don’t think it should be right next to a neighborhood.”

Brann said that the ZTA felt like the county changing the rules toward the end of the game.

“We were told to go through the special exception process, and we’re going through it,” Ishida said. “We really don’t see the need for the ZTA.”

The Kensington Heights Civic Association that Costco recently submitted revised materials for its special exception application without properly notifying all the parties of record in the case. Without enough time to review the materials before the May 17 planning board hearing, KHCA members say they’re at a disadvantage. But Brann says that what Costco submitted was simply its response to comments from Park and Planning, clarifying certain points.

“It wasn’t anything that was a game-changer,” Brann said.

A Minority Sides With Costco

Although the majority of the community persists in opposition, Costco is nonetheless reaching some people. Steve Howard, who lives on Littleford Lane in Kensington Heights, said that the Environmental Protection Agency studies presented by Costco at the open house convinced him.

“I’m sorry, I don’t agree that they shouldn’t have the gas station,” he said. “I don’t see a problem.”

Howard said that he buys all his gas at the Costco in Beltsville, but even if the Wheaton Costco gets its gas station, he will probably continue to fuel up in Beltsville. Why? Beltsville is unionized; Wheaton will not be. Howard said he has gotten to know the people in Beltsville and wants to continue giving them his business.

Fully aware that he is in the minority, Howard said that he tries to be diplomatic when talking with his neighbors.

And not everyone who attended the open house picked a side.

Marian Fryer, who sits on the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee, said that she came to observe. She’s waiting to see how the process will play out and is reserving her opinion either way.

“But I think that it’s important for the community to be concerned about this issue, because of the concern about pollution,” Fryer said.

Community Concerned about Swim Club’s Future

Many of the anxieties expressed by community members at the open house centered on the neighborhood pool, which will be in close proximity to the gas station.

“ is the backbone and the heart of the community,” Pescov said.

Jane Shafritz, a swim club member, said that she likes the fact that Costco is coming, but she’s concerned about the gas station.

“I just don’t want to see anything happen to the pool,” Shafritz said.

Marty Safer, a psychologist and a former president of the swim club, said that he believes the club will go under if Costco constructs the gas station. Even if all the studies show that the gas station does not have an adverse effect, perception is more important than reality.

“You have to deal with what people perceive the risk to be,” he said. “Having the gas station across from the baby pool is going to make it hard to attract new members...Gas pumps and baby pools don’t mix.”

A few Montgomery County residents from outside the Kensington Heights neighborhood came to support the community in its opposition to the gas station.

Maria Fusco, , attended the open house to support Kensington Heights. She used to live on McComas Avenue in that neighborhood.

“What happens in one part of the county can affect other parts of the county too,” Fusco said.

Gail Dalferes is from Parkwood, Kensington. At the open house, she looked at the traffic and gas station studies, but was not impressed. “They sound like bunk to me,” she said. “They put a lot of time and money into these studies, but they seem a little suspect.”

Laura Kervitsky has lived in Kensington Heights for 14 years. She said her two children, ages 11 and 13, spend their summers at the pool, and she’s worried how the gas station could change that. Even though she spent time at the air quality table at the open house, listening to experts talk about modeling air flow, she’s not convinced.

“I think there’s a big unknown with the gas station,” she said. “Things can look one way on paper and can be very different in practicality.”

“Once it’s there, you can’t go back.”

Danila Sheveiko April 26, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Dear Patch readers, A picture is worth a thousand words - please check out the graphics uploaded above. This will not just be the busiest gas station in Montgomery County - it will also be the worst-sited of all 313 fueling operations Costco runs. They showed us seven (7) that are almost as bad as our case, but what kind of argument is that?! Of course, if you want to exacerbate a problem - subsidize it! Westfield is getting $4 million of County taxpayer dollars for the Costco development project.
Wheatoner April 27, 2012 at 12:30 AM
I love the fact that in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that this badly needed station will have no adverse effects, the NIMBY's just pivot to "perception is reality." The circular logic is stunning. It's their perception, not the community's, but because in the NIMBY's mind he is the center of the universe, everyone must think like he does. Once again, here's hoping that the board fairly weighs Costco's evidence and approves, because it's clear that KHCA will never be satisfied regardless of how tall the mountain of evidence against their position.
Danila Sheveiko April 27, 2012 at 02:49 AM
@ GinWheaton: Are you saying that a mega gas station can be sited absolutely anywhere? Surely you have seen the warning stickers on the pumps... or is that science you are not willing to get behind?
H April 27, 2012 at 04:43 AM
How on earth is this station "badly needed"? Aren't there something like 30 stations in a 7 minute radius of Wheaton? I can count off 11 from the top of my head just driving Connecticut/University from Kensington to Georgia Ave, with 8 of those in Kensington - literally 2 minutes down the road from the proposed Costco site. 3 of those 11 are cheapie stations (ie. cash only/discounted prices), again all within a 2 minute drive of the Costco site. But please, let's add MORE gas stations to the area. If you're so comfortable there is no risk to the community, why don't you go live less than 1000 feet from a large fueling station (even better if you have kids) and then we'll talk again in a year to see if you still feel the same way.
Pete April 27, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Maybe they could put the gas station underground and pipe the carbon monoxide out to viersmill road.. have a tunnel for the cars to wait in.. so everything will be out sight and the fumes put in the street....
Ben Schumin April 27, 2012 at 07:14 PM
I can't help to not feel any sympathy for the Kenmont swim club. Members of an exclusive private swim club that is only open four months out of a year should be taken with something of a grain of salt. People drive year round, and people shop year round. I'm usually not so in favor of big retailers, but I find the holier-than-thou attitude about Kenmont swim club to be a little bit reprehensible, and I honestly would not shed a tear if the gas station caused Kenmont to close down.
ED April 28, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Only members of an exclusive private club will be able to buy gas at this mega-gas station - Costco members.
David Becker June 20, 2012 at 02:21 PM
GinWheaton. It's not badly needed. CostCo representatives themselves have stated that this is a loss leader that draws people into their store. It's marketing. Also, by not traveling all the way to Beltsville to gas up (and fueling your vehicle in one of the many gas stations in Wheaton) you have, effectively, zeroed out any loss.
David Becker June 20, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Ben, it's not exclusive. Anyone can join. The cost of membership applies to maintaining the pool and paying for lifeguards. Also, this swim club has been here in the community for over 50 years; a focal point of our community.

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