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Costco's Mega Gas Station "Need Study" Tallies Potential Sales but Ignores Impacts on Wheaton

Costco says the potential to divert traffic from across the northern Metro Area to its mega station proves that Wheaton needs it.

Costco must prove that Wheaton needs a mega gas station at Wheaton Plaza to get Montgomery County to give it the special zoning exception required for construction.  To try to bolster its case, Costco paid an Annapolis firm for a Need Study. I attached a copy here.

Costco's sales potential is the sole criteria the study uses to gauge Wheaton's need for a mega station.  Montgomery County requires Costco to prove a need in the general Wheaton neighborhood, but the study uses the 15 square miles surrounding Wheaton Plaza as the principal market area (p. 2-1).

I wish I could tell you that there's more to Costco's Need Study than that, but it contains no deeper thought about the future of Wheaton.  Costco's sales opportunity morphs into Wheaton's needs and that's it according to Costco.  The study never considers the trade-off between more sales for Costco and Wheaton's loss of a metro accessible parcel that sits astride an important pedestrian pathway connecting neighborhoods, the Mall, and downtown Wheaton.

The study is illuminating for a moment (page 4-2, Exhibit 4-1) when it admits that Costco's corporate technique of measuring what Wheaton needs finds several types of retail that Wheaton needs more than a mega gas station.  My favorite is Foodservice and Drinking Places, the study finds an 8 percent larger need for those establishments than for the mega station.  More places like the Royal Mile Pub?  Exhibit 4-1 masks the findings a bit, if you want we can discuss them more in comments.

Costco says (p. 4-5) that Wheaton needs to be a fuel depot for traffic from "most of Montgomery County, parts of adjacent counties and the District of Columbia."  I don't believe Montgomery County will let that happen and I hope in the future we can discuss here in Patch ways the Wheaton community can present its vision of Wheaton's needs to our County decision makers.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Danielle Ring January 02, 2013 at 06:36 PM
John, Um from my read of this study they use the area within 7 min drive time of the proposed station location for the gas study but indicate that the Westown Maill and Cosco store retail market area will be larger -- ie 15 miles from the location. I understand that you are not happy about the prospect of a Costco gas station in Wheaton and so are looking for ways to discount this study. It shows the need for an additional gas station, as required by the County. Of course it does this from market potential approach --- what other need would there be? It does not assess the potential impact of this station on traffic etc in the Wheaton area ... is it required to by the county? Also I agree with the shortage of Foodservice and Drinking Places in the 7 min drive area... There may be a large concentration restaurants and bars in Wheaton Center but drive a few mins north and that situation changes quickly. Trying finding a Brunch place around Glenmont!
Interrobang January 02, 2013 at 09:28 PM
I agree -- Montgomery County needs more restaurants with good breakfasts and brunches!
Danila Sheveiko January 03, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Dear Danielle, to answer your question, a potential market opportunity does not in itself constitute need - otherwise the entire exercise would be meaningless and you could stick a toxic waste dump next to a hospital. We do generate lots of toxins that require storage for thousands of years, and that's a market opportunity! Surely you would concede that other factors must constitute need, like actual fuel availability! We have 34 existing gas stations in the 7 min drive you mention, and 14 stations within 1 mile radius of the proposed Costco site, including several discount stations selling gas at some of the lowest prices around. We do not need the largest gas station in the County next to a metro, 125 ft away from single-family residences, adjacent to an outdoor fitness club and a school for medically fragile children with special needs, including oxygen tanks!
Danielle Ring January 03, 2013 at 05:11 PM
Danilla, The county has asked Cosco to show a need. Has the county defined need as something other than market opportunity? If not then the report addressed the county's requirements. The point that I was trying to make is maybe folks need to find another rationale. So question back to you, why don't we need this gas station?
Danila Sheveiko January 03, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Danielle, didn't I just answer your question? We have oodles of gas stations in the area. We do not need another one. If your only argument of need rests on the hypothetical legalese wiggleroom in the County's regulations, you don't have the moral highground to have criticized John Jinkins for finding fault with Costco's need study.
Ktown mom January 03, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Any reasonable review should look at whether this gas station needs to be in this exact location, which is extremely close to a public school for disabled and medically fragile kids. Some of those kids have respiratory issues and all can be there 11 months of the year for their entire school career. Please find a new place!
James Schmidt January 03, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Wheaton needs a another gas station? No way. But I'm sure Costco wants the extra money. I'm sure I will be able to find baby seal clubs on isle 5 because Costco ONLY cares about Costco, not our community!
ED January 03, 2013 at 08:05 PM
It's amazing to me, after reading various parts of this study, that this company did not use the 2010 census and did not use much of the data that Montgomery County used for the current Wheaton Sector Plan to convince residents and businesses that Wheaton is a Smartgrowth area - an area designed to increase density, increase public transportation, increase walkability, and reduce the need for cars. I supported the Wheaton Sector Plan because I believed the County. In March, I guess, we'll see how serious Montgomery County is about Smartgrowth.
Webmaster January 03, 2013 at 09:10 PM
I sure hope that everyone who agrees that there is no need for another gas station (especially one in Westfield Wheaton Mall) writes to the Planning Commission and shows up at the Planning Board hearing (now scheduled for Feb. 28.
John Jinkins January 03, 2013 at 10:56 PM
Hi Danielle, For Montgomery County to allow Costco to build its mega station at Wheaton Plaza, Costco must prove that there is a need "in the general neighborhood, considering the present availability of identical or similar uses to that neighborhood." Take a drive around Wheaton and you'll find no dearth of gas stations. Costco attempts to evade the problem by proposing very expansive boundaries for the general Wheaton neighborhood. You're confused a bit about how Costco is attempting to define Wheaton, so let's go over Costco's definition: * Costco says unambiguously on p. 2-1 that it's "an area of approximately 15 square miles" emanating from Wheaton Plaza. * Costco says the general Wheaton neighborhood encompasses North Silver Spring, including the Fillmore and AFI, two institutions I wish were in Wheaton, they are the type of development that we really need. Costco goes on to include Four Corners, Glenmont, and Kensington in the general Wheaton Neighborhood. * You correctly noted that Costco claims (dubiously) that everywhere within the 15 square mile "general neighborhood" will be within a seven minute drive of the mega station. Given the number of lights involved I think it'll take you more than seven minutes just to get onto northbound Georgia Avenue after you leave that corner of the Mall. No need to try to discount this study, it discounted itself.
L.W. January 04, 2013 at 12:12 AM
On another note…In Costco’s special exception application, the four ‘comparable’ fueling stations used to defend this particular site for their mega station (based on proximity to residences) are all located alongside six + lane state highways…Georgia Ave at White Oak Dr in SS; Georgia Ave at Columbia Blvd in SS; Democracy Blvd at Westlake Dr in N. Bethesda; and Frederick Rd (Rte 355) at Germantown Rd. Please, how can any meaningful comparison be made between a two-lane ring road around a mall and seven lanes on Georgia Ave? And, based on Costco’s own estimates, their station expects to dispense 33K gallons per day…I’m sure none of the comparables even come close to that number in a day. IMHO, this should laugh Costco right out of the planning board hearing room.
John Jinkins January 04, 2013 at 01:41 AM
L.W. thanks for providing that important information. Costco is an innovative retailer and assuredly has staff with the business acumen to tailor a business plan to conditions in Wheaton. We are not a community on the side of a freeway but a community with a Red Line metro stop at its core, just eight stops away from Capitol Hill. The Wheaton community's vision of Wheaton's needs should trump any one dimensional study produced by Costco's hired guns and I believe Montgomery County will make that happen.
ED January 04, 2013 at 03:58 AM
It seems to me, based on the data in this report, there is no "need" for another gas station in the Wheaton-Kensington area. This report actually listed far more gas stations than I actually knew about in the comparable area. If a judge will need to rule on a "need", this report actually shows that there is no "need" in this area. Would Costco "like" a gas station? Most certainly. Will Costco make money by adding this gas station? Most certainly Will Montgomery County be well served by this gas station? I don't believe so. Prices may drop in the short term, but the cost of rehabilitating the land of other closed gas stations will far outweigh the cost of the $ 4 million we already gave to Westfield. Are we going to give millions of dollars to the closed businesses that we paid millions to close? I hope not.
Danila Sheveiko January 04, 2013 at 08:22 PM
John, you are right. Costco can and does build great urban stores in places like Vancouver and, together with Westfield, in California. Please see uploaded images above - these stores have environmental impact statements, walking paths, biking lanes, and innovative architectural features. In Wheaton, we have mega gas next to homes, a waiver for Environmental Site Design, so no green roofs and rain gardens, and a forest conservation exemption, so they could bulldoze over the woods and Silver Creek.
Danielle Ring January 04, 2013 at 10:22 PM
John Jinkins - Then the center point of your argument should be about how the "general neighborhood" was defined in this study to determine need - and not the fact that sales potential was the only criteria used.
Danielle Ring January 04, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Danilia - I am unsure as to what "moral highground" I have used. My point, which you have reiterated in your comment, is that Cosco's arguments for this gas station will be based on the legalese wiggleroom in the County's regulations, so those who are opposed to this need to present reasons/arguments that recognize that wiggleroom and stand regardless. As for my question, no you did not answer. You made a personal statement that in your opinion there are enough gas stations in the area and we do not need another one.. but you also made statements about concerns about the particular location of this gas station but I was asking you to back those statements up with data. That is what Cosco will do when presented with these concerns. So should those who are presenting them or they may be discounted.
L.J. January 06, 2013 at 04:47 PM
There is no need for a mega gas station in Wheaton. This land could be used for shops and restaurants that help our community instead of harming it. Surely our county needs to take the concerns of their citizens over the money they can gain with Costco. We vote them in, we can vote them out!
D.B. January 07, 2013 at 07:49 PM
I understand that the Kensington Heights Association is trying to remove it's current President because he's been doing some "behind the scenes" meetings with CostCo officials and summarily dismissing KHA officers without much reason or fanfare; other than they've been asking him for information on his dealings with CostCo. It appears that he (the president) has completely pushed out the attorney that KHA had been working with.
ED January 07, 2013 at 09:20 PM
If that is true, it is sad, but not unheard of and is one tactic that developer's use - divide and conquer. It is sad because, if this mega-gas station is allowed in that location, it opens the door to these mega-gas stations on private roads and in close proximity to homes almost anywhere in the County.
L.J. January 08, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I think that posting up comment with the intent to further divide the community is unfair. Do not make accusations without sound proof because it just makes your comments seem malicious. Dealing with people, a neighborhood, attorneys, and a huge corporation such as Costco is a big undertaking. Would you be able to handle that D.B.? You can't always make everyone happy you just have to try your best at doing what is right. The Kensington Heights President is a educated Lawyer who knows what he is doing and what is best for the community. The only behind the scenes meetings have been disenfranchised Kensington Heights Association members who are trying to vote him out and form their own group. Does this seem productive to you? This makes Kensington Heights look bad and unorganized and that is not what they need at this time. This is the time to put petty egos aside and work together and work hard against Costco. Let's look at the bigger picture people!! Like ED said, if Costco wins this can happen anywhere in the country. Please stop the petty arguing amongst yourselves and get to work!!!
D.B. January 08, 2013 at 05:18 PM
I'm not posting to divide the community. I'm posting a fact that a lot of people don't know about. You make the assumption that, because the Kensington Heights President is an educated Lawyer (like many, many other citizens in Kensington Heights) he is doing what is best for the community. I just believe that he should be more up front with the people he represents. This is a democratically run organization, not an oligarchy.
L.J. January 08, 2013 at 05:39 PM
Are you aware that the same accusations were thrown around about the "dismissed" members? The same things were said about the previous president as well. They are unfounded and false on all accounts. These accusations are dangerous and not fact whatsoever just hearsay. I would think twice before saying such things. Perhaps your time and energy can be used to help find a solution to stop the gas station instead of attacking your neighbors.
Andrea January 15, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Getting back to the issue of need, I am in agreement that Costco may want the gas station and others may want the cheap gas but I do not consider want and need to be the same thing. Costco is only concerned about profits and increasing visitors to the store. The fact that they removed their ethnics statement about being a good neighbor and exceeding environmental requirements from their website is enough proof that Costco has NO interest in playing fair. I canceled my membership sometime ago and urge everyone else to do the same.

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