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Costco Gas Station Dominates Zoning Amendment Testimony

Almost everyone who testified at Tuesday's public hearing for a zoning text amendment that would tighten regulations on "mega" gas stations had something to say about the proposed Costco gas station at Westfield Wheaton.

Nearly 30 people testified at Tuesday’s public hearing on a zoning text amendment that would place greater restrictions on where gas stations that dispense more than 3.6 million gallons can be built in Montgomery County. Almost everyone who testified before the Montgomery County Council mentioned Costco, which is at the center of this controversial legislation.

Lining up against Costco are the Kensington Heights Civic Association and its allies, who see the proposed Costco gas station at Westfield Wheaton as a health threat to their adjacent neighborhood, with its community pool and school for children with disabilities.

Check it out: Wheaton Patch has created a page where you can see all of our Costco gas station coverage in reverse chronological order.

Costco’s progress through the special exception process , and if the council approves the zoning rule change, Costco will not be able to build its gas station.

, and councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer have signed on as co-sponsors. The ZTA would prohibit gas stations that dispense more than 3.6 million gallons from sites 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.”

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At the public hearing, those supporting the ZTA asked the council to consider how the growth of “mega” gas stations should change the way local government regulates them; the current regulations were designed for smaller gas stations, they said, not ones that will dispense 12 million gallons, which is the amount projected for the proposed Costco gas station. That would make it the largest gas station in Montgomery County.

Jim Humphrey, representing the Montgomery County Civic Federation, asked the council to “err on the side of caution” and adopt new standards.

Opponents countered that the county is unfairly targeting the legislation at Costco--which was nearing the end of the county-established procedures for building the gas station--and that this will only add to Montgomery County’s anti-business reputation.

Several councilmembers were quick to defend themselves. Ervin noted that council staff is currently working on a memo outlining the council’s support of businesses over the past few years, to the tune of more than $600 million. Navarro pointed out that the council gave a to bring the Costco store to Wheaton in the first place.

The first to testify at the public hearing was Gregory Russ, representing the planning board. , Chair Françoise Carrier tried unsuccessfully to direct the testimony away from Costco’s special exception case. In the end, the board could not reach a majority opinion.

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When the testimony was tallied, 15 people spoke against the ZTA and 13 spoke in favor. However, some individuals spoke as representatives of larger groups, such as the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and the .

Both sides brought environmental experts to the table: Larry Silverman and Henry Cole testified in support of the ZTA, warning that if the county licenses and permits “mega” gas stations the same way as they do “old-fashioned” gas stations, county residents’ health and quality of life will suffer. "You're asking this particular community to take an enormous risk,” said Cole, who formerly worked with air quality models as a senior scientist at the EPA.

But Ken Chase of Washington Occupational Health Associates and David Sullivan (who conducted the air quality studies for Costco’s special exception application) disagreed. They characterized the current standards as “very stringent” and labeled any risk as “essentially negligible.”

The council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to hold a worksession for ZTA 12-07 on July 9.

macadoodle June 20, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Whoever pays the most money to the ones voting will win. Didn't the County Council pay $4 mill of our taxpayer monies (without consultation with the voters) to get Costco here in the lst place? If the new Costco gas station gets approval, it will potentially put a number of other gas stations in the area in Wheaton and Kensington out of business. Which means, if you're not a Costco member, your choice of gas stations will be limited. And since the non-mega stations are small businesses and might be beneficial to the economy, they should go, if we follow the illogical arguments of the PROGs. Any way you look at it, it's a mess. But, in the end, I'll make a bet that the portion of WE THE PEOPLE who object to the mega-gas station will probably lose. Because of the big money in the background.
David Becker June 20, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I've already posted this in another thread, however, at last nights hearing, the biggest complaint I heard from folks who want the gas station at a Wheaton CostCo was how much cheaper it was to purchase their gasoline at CostCo in Beltsville; so I took the time to do a little math to figure out if this was true. Based upon all the data I collected, the cost of going to CostCo in Beltsville is higher than purchasing it in Wheaton: Cost of Gasoline at local Wheaton station: $3.35/$40.20 to fill a 12 gallon tank, Cost of Gasoline at Beltsville CostCo: $3.25./$39.00 to fill a 12 gallon tank, Cost Savings of $1.20 to purchase a tank of Gasoline at CostCo. Is there really a savings? Current Average MPG of American Automobiles is @ 18 MPG (per http://www.project.org/info.php?recordID=384) The distance for a round trip from Wheaton to Beltsville is 20 miles. This equates to a cash outlay of $3.61 at the Beltsville CostCo prices to pay for the round trip from Wheaton to Beltsville and back again. Subtracting the cost savings of the purchase of CostCo's lower grade gasoline ($1.20) from the cost of taking the trip ($3.61) equates to a "loss" of $2.40. Not to mention the time it takes to travel there and back (whatever your time is worth), idling in line, and the burning of fuel while waiting in line. (if a 15 minute wait consumes 1/5 of a gallon of gas while idling, then the cost for that is .65). Overall loss: $3.05
Danila Sheveiko June 20, 2012 at 08:22 PM
David, thank you very much for the thoughtful comments. Having found myself as a sacrifice on the altar of CHEAP GAS, I've had time to ruminate on the subject... ;) Per Costco customers that testified against the bill and for the mega station in Wheaton, the operative phrase is "penny wise, pound foolish." Surely, we all have the right to be financially myopic once in a while but, in this particular case, it comes at a very high cost, as you can see from the images uploaded above. Per Costco Wholesale Corporation itself, where does one draw the line between profit maximization and greed? With "greed is good" mentality dominating the corporate sector, the very concept of greed is now institutionalized in the social psyche. As the moral and spiritual arguments have been firmly discarded, we should at least hang on to logic and reason. Greed is not just "bad." Greed is also dumb. And that makes it dangerous.
Viviane Pescov June 21, 2012 at 02:25 PM
From: Viviane Pesov We live in the 21st century where pollution has been diagnosed as the No 1 Hazard to humans, Smoking and 2nd Hand Smoke are banned! Why then build a Mega 16 Pumps Gas Station so close to homes; a school for the disabled(Stephen Knolls) and a pool(kenmont Swim & Tennis)? It's sad to see that a multibillion dollars corporation like Costco doens't show any consideration towards its future cutomers Health!
KatieSilverSpring June 24, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Excellent analysis, DavidBecker, EXCEPT - doesn't this mean that if there is a COSTCO station in Wheaton the number of vehicles at Beltsville goes down and the trip to a COSTCO is likewise reduced? therefore making it a savings? The thing that bothers me the most about the debate, petition drive, opposition is that it comes from Kensington Heights. This development came amid protests from the existing community, it jacked up property taxes for the surrounding older little brick homes. I find it galling that these residents are taking the lead in order to save their community pool? Second to that, the same group of Progressive Dems, Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer, are pushing ZTA 12-07 with the oddest of reasoning. If you have ever been to Wheaton Mall, which I am at regularly, you will notice that the VAST majority of employees there are Latinos. Wheaton Mall is a Godsend for those in need of jobs to support their families, to live their lives. This group of Councilmembers notoriously pander for the Latino vote when it comes to larger politics, when it comes to the sorts of entitlements that enslave and hold people back. Latinos do not come to this community to get handouts, to vote as they are told; they come to work, to hold jobs, to finance their households. While opposing COSTCO, for whatever reason, this group of politicians are doing it to promote their own cause without the slightest concern for this. Beware: elections are coming.
Steve W. June 24, 2012 at 01:57 PM
@David and Danila, despite pressures, hang in there, as I think that gas station can be moved closer to Veirs Mill Road where it intersects with University, possibly in the triangle itself.
David Becker June 24, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Katie, My ascertain is that people have been fooling themselves in thinking that they were buying gas cheaper in Beltsville; whereas, if they had been purchasing gas locally the cost difference would have only been $1.20 per tank. The argument that they were saving mony by going to Beltsville is penny wise, but pound foolish. In regards to your comment that Kensington Heights came in later than the rest of the community and jacked up taxes: save for a hand full of new homes, the vast majority of houses in Kensington Height were built immediately after WW II. My hom was built in 1946; typical of the homes surrounding it. The houses in Wheaton and Wheaton Plaza all came after.
KatieSilverSpring June 24, 2012 at 03:04 PM
it's the "handful" of newer homes I was referencing, based on my experience with the petition drive people
KatieSilverSpring June 25, 2012 at 12:32 AM
You don't know where I live, DavidBecker, but good try to dismiss my Comments. I would support any place CostCo wants to build - it isn't about petitioning, they are a private corporation and make their decisions thusly. As for "industrial", I hardly think Baltimore, Beltsville and Gaithersburg are considered industrial. You say, "you're uninformed and working off of incorrect information": I think there is enough in the testimony of "Ken Chase of Washington Occupational Health Associates and David Sullivan (who conducted the air quality studies for Costco’s special exception application) disagreed. They characterized the current standards as 'very stringent' and labeled any risk as 'essentially negligible'.” Glad you better identified the area: "400 families that belong to Kenmont". And your interpretation of my "ramblings about the Latino community" do not help the need and the jobs to be available; interpret however you wish about "bitter and confused", none of which I am. Nor do I assign that to others with who I disagree. BTW, many addresses in "Wheaton" are postal-identified as Silver Spring even those of you in "Kensington". While I appreciate the opinions of others, I do not like blasting. I will not respond further.
Peter Kulkosky June 25, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Gas stations of any size do not belong in shopping malls. Oil corporations and retail businesses such as department stores have different functions which require separate locations under normal zoning law. Wheaton mall will become an eyesore in comparison to other malls in the area. With so many cars spilling out exhaust while waiting in line, it will be like a garage scene. In Virginia, across Maryland and in other States we will be known as setting a precedent which effectively downgrades the American shopping mall, turning it partially into a gas station. Let them set up the "mega-gas station" elsewhere in the County. Many locations are available which do not adjoin residential areas such as Kensington.
Jennifer E June 25, 2012 at 01:57 AM
I live currently in SS but have lived in many areas. I have not seen a Costco gas station placed as close to residential areas as I am understanding this one to be placed. But already, the mall in Wheaton I would not classify as a "mall" in the sense of one like in VA in Tyson's. Really, the fact that a Costco was allowed at the mall at all already changed the traditional sense of the Wheaton mall. Just an outsider. And as an outsider, I'd love to be able to go get gas at the mall. But if I was at the pool and the gas station was close enough to see, then for sure you may smell the exhaust. Luckily this is not like other states with no regulations on their vehicles and you have major problems just wanting to drive with your window open. Then, having driven this tract often now, the cheapest gas is just down the road on Viers mill already. Also, Costco may put some places out of business. So I am not sure this is a big jobs maker. The pumps are automated and usually only one or two people manning the pumps. For these reasons, no more gas stations (there really are plenty and the place is going to need the parking just to shop there at Costco's anyway. Parking is a mess at Beltsville!)
Anna June 25, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Gas stations of any size are a good thing at every mall if you don't want to return home in a taxi. I'll leave economic analysis to professionals, but from my layman point of view other businesses will benefit from a gas station because some of those who come to tank will go to eat in a food court or visit a big retailer like Macy’s or a small store nearby. It is impossible to say without a serious research (that I leave to professionals, too) what kind of gas station is more dangerous: mega one that is new and fully automated, or an old one that is operated by unknown owner. A fire and/or blast even at a small gas station is a disaster of a biblical proportions. How many dangerous accidents on mega gas stations critics of Costco can name? So, it is only a question of inconvenience for some. I feel for those who will lose comfort in using a pool, but they are already surrounded by the Giant and a mall; maybe, they can negotiate with Costco to get something in exchange. They already have some advantages, however, as not taking metro or driving a car to shop. You can't get it all in this life for nothing. In the end a lot of people will have advantages of shopping in Costco, getting cheaper gas, having jobs, increasing their sales. And the county will have taxes from all these activities.
The Big Egg June 25, 2012 at 05:53 PM
1. Experts hired by Costco should have their conclusions viewed with healthy skepticism. Although they are no doubt "independent," they are also quite aware that if they give unfavorable reports, they won't be hired again. 2. There are at least three separate groups affected by the gas station: (a) students at Stephen Knolls, (b) families at Kenmont (this is the 400 families figure you cited), and (c) residents adjacent to the proposed gas station. There's probably only a little overlap between these groups. 3. I'm not sure what your "BTW" is meant to infer. Do Wheaton-area residents deserve less voice because the US Postal Service has given them a certain zip code?
Joan E. Doherty June 25, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Seamus Most of my information regarding the Costco planned for Wheaton has come from various news reports. Wanting to explore this more to make an informed decision I started doing my own research. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the hearing. I found the Patch blog and all was going well and very informative regarding different perspectives. And then came the unnecessary vitriolic remarks and I was shocked. (I also became distracted from what I was looking for in the first place). Mr. Becker, your first few comments I thought were helpful but to then spiral down and start attacking the other writer is not appropriate for this type of forum. You begin to lose creditability. Please stay on task. It would be helpful for all uf us to stay focused and not make it personal. Thank you.
David Becker June 25, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Joan, thank you for your feedback. I appreciate your opinion. As you can imagine, the mis-information and half-truths leveled against our community as a bunch of NIMBY obstructionists (presented in on-line and public forums) is hurtful and untrue; and has pushed me over the line. I will Stick o the facts of the matter, as I hope others will. Again, thank you.
macadoodle June 25, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Good points above.
Resident July 10, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Yes, Costco could move it to the Viers Mill/University side (close to that stretch they've proven is deprived of adequate gas staions) ... Costco was offered that solution iand have refused to do so from the git go. Costco maintains that it MUST have the gas station close to the store (in that smaller edge of the shopping mall) because that's they way they do business. And that's what they want to do, will do, and will plant however many cherry trees to assure they get what they want. And it could have been a win-win-win: instead it's a Costco win, and populace lose. This is simple and straight-forward head-banging strong-arm tactics. The lights and noise alone will drive down home values, make the pool and club less desirable, and Costco has (for whatever their reason) driven home the "big box=bad neighbor=big bully" ethos. They will build it where it is inconvenient, unnecessary, and unwanted... simply because they can... and any concession to the locals is first step on a slippery slope. As for our "tax paper bags to save the bay" council: The dumbest reason put forward for the $4Mill was that putting in Costco would increase foot traffic in the Wheaton Triangle. Total and irresponsible spin. NO ONE walks to or from Costco, and certainly no one walks to or from the biggest gas station in Montgomery County. And golly, do we REALLY think ViersMillXGeorgia needs MORE auto traffic? Oh well.. Just sign me A Useful Idiot.
KatieSilverSpring July 10, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Dear "Useful Idiot" / Resident - "NO ONE walks to or from Costco (in the Wheaton Triangle), and certainly no one walks to or from the biggest gas station in Montgomery County", really? no one walks to and from CostCo - that's because protests keep it out of walkable neighborhoods. And of course you don't walk to a gas station. I am there EVERY day. I have seen the proximity to the pool. Have you ever seen the location of the Claridge House pool to the industrial area - and they aren't protesting.
David Becker July 11, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Katie Silver Spring. Why are you so nasty? You name call and belittle people, but why? Your statements are just ridiculous. "Useful Idiot"? So you think that Resident is a propagandist who doesn't understand the cause he supports? You must think he's part of some communist cause, considering the source of that term. BTW, I walk to Wheaton Plaza and the Wheaton Triangle all the time. The traffic is too heavy and parking is so inconvenient that walking is very convenient. Don't assume that everyone lives by your standards and has your needs. I've seen the Clarige House pool. It's approximately 300 feet from the back side of what appears to be a strip of mixed industry shops. There is nothing in between but grass and trees. No roads, no sidewalks, no traffic, no gasoline stations, no nothing. The Kenmont Pool and Knowles School have so much more than that already; and we don't need the gas station. You've already stated in past posts that you think businesses like Costco know how to make better decisions about where they should be put. Do you really think big businesses are looking out for you?
Peter Kulkosky July 11, 2012 at 01:40 AM
We should not lower our zoning standards to accommodate the demands of corporations seeking expansion and profit. Casinos and Costcos are insensitive to their effect upon morality and appearance in their attempt to expand into shopping malls. Westfield Shopping Town Wheaton now has many prominent department stores and shops and doesn't need a large gas station with long lines of cars, trucks and other vehicles spilling out exhaust fumes all day. The shopping Mall should remain as park-like and non-industrial in appearance as possible. With a gas station installation, the effect of oil and gas companies invades the image of retail clothing, food and home products as well as jewelry and other things you wouldn't want to buy near a gas station.
KatieSilverSpring July 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM
DavidBecker - I do NOT name call. Re-read Resident's posting; HE called himself a Useful Idiot. And it was HE not me who said no one walks to Wheaton. I do not know what your agenda is but deliverately misconstruing what I wrote and then assigning me these charges are easily checked.

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