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Council Votes to Restrict 'Mega' Gas Stations in Montgomery County

But a last-minute change means a proposed Costco gas station at Westfield Wheaton Mall is still in limbo.

All nine Montgomery County council members voted Tuesday afternoon to establish a 300-foot buffer between large gas stations in the county and community spaces such as parks, schools and pools.

But the vote left unclear what was on everyone's minds: whether Costco would be able to build its proposed gas station at Westfield Wheaton.

Councilmember Marc Elrich, the lead sponsor of Zoning Text Amendment 12-07, made a key last-minute change to the bill, reducing the buffer zone from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, in order to gain the necessary votes for passage.

"They would have beat me yesterday, 5-4," Elrich said afterward.

The ZTA applies to gas stations that dispense more than 3.6 million gallons per year. Costco, which has been at the center of the controversy surrounding ZTA 12-07, has plans to build a gas station at that is projected to dispense 12 million gallons per year.

All gas stations in Montgomery County must go through a special exception process.

It is not clear whether Costco's proposed gas station is located within this 300-foot buffer zone from the in Kensington Heights, because the 300 feet will be measured from the edge of the special exception zone, whereas the original 1,000-foot buffer would have been measured in a direct line from the gas pumps.

Costco representatives say they plan to measure the new distance and re-submit their special exception packet.

Costco's special exception process came to a halt after , and the county's Board of Appeals decided to await the outcome of the council vote.

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

ED July 24, 2012 at 08:04 PM
While I would have preferred the 1,000 foot buffer area, I commend the County Council for their unanimous vote on the 300 foot buffer. I especially commend Marc Elrich, for his foresight in suggesting this amendment to 300 feet and the addition of day care centers (since Rice backed out as one of the original sponsors), and the other sponsor's - Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer, and Valerie Ervin. To me, a 300 foot buffer is better than no buffer at all.
MocoLoco July 24, 2012 at 08:15 PM
It was take some Enron-style measurements to have the Wheaton Costco gas station be at least 300' from the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club. According to the link in this article, the tennis courts there are 55 yds (165 feet) from the proposed site.
Bruce Shulman July 24, 2012 at 08:43 PM
What most people do not realize is that there was a more important issue involved in this case than whether or not Costco is permitted to build a gas station. Previously, we had an open and fair government in Montgomery County, in which all were encouraged to participate and in which all were heard. Now, thanks to Marc Elrich, we have "government by ambush." Elrich encouraged Costco to apply for a special exception, then introduced a bill to prevent them from being heard. Now, at the very last moment, he introduces an amendment to which the public is unable to comment. Mr. Elrich has brought great disrespect to the government by thousands of residents who previously held it in high esteem. Mr. Elrich's apparently believes that the end justifies the means. He is wrong.
The Big Egg July 24, 2012 at 08:53 PM
In this age of instant communication, everyone was heard from, Mr. Shulman. Costco had time to lobby the council; the county executive's lawyers had time to develop a constitutional argument against the ZTA; the public weighed in. If the amendment had passed 5-4, you might have a case. But, your indictment of Elrich works only if it applies to all nine members who joined to vote for the amendment and ZTA. It's unlikely that all nine are ambushers, right? Maybe you're just wrong about how you portray this process.
David Pilchard July 24, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Same way those developers got their way destroying the Strathmore area with uneeded and contraindicated housing in an already gridlocked area of the county. Way to go Ehrlich. No shame when there is money to be made, eh? Romneynomics at play!
ED July 24, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Nothing in the passage of this ZTA prevents Costco from proceeding with their Special Exception and it certainly does not prevent Costco from being heard. As a matter of fact, the unanimous passage of this ZTA shows that the County Council, sitting as the District Council, gained more of my respect by taking their job seriously - passing zoning laws that protect and promote the health, safety, etc. of the inhabitants (residents). In this case, I think everyone was "heard".
David Pilchard July 24, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Seriously? The 300 foot buffer is effectively the same as no buffer- I am sure the interested parties did their homework already with Mr. Ehrlich's guidance. At least the lawyers are getting paid. And Costco gets their way again. I'll bet those tanks are already in the ground up there.
LocalGal July 24, 2012 at 09:02 PM
How is this affected by / related to the legal memo put out by the Chief Executive stating that ZTAs like this could not be written so narrowly? Will this law then be appealed using that memo?
Bruce Shulman July 24, 2012 at 09:06 PM
To the best of my knowledge, no one, other than perhaps the members of the Council, knew that Mr. Elrich was going to propose an amendment to his ZTA. Had he made it public, everyone would have had a chance to weigh in. He saw to it that no one had a chance to weigh in. I have little respect for his tactics.
David Pilchard July 24, 2012 at 09:11 PM
@the Big Egg- That is assuming the vote would have been 5-4 as Mr. Ehrlich said. Since he did a last minute raping of the ammendment before the vote took place, we can never really know. But lawyers know how to play a jury, and Costco only had to convince a couple of them to affect the outcome. What reason could there possilbly be for changing the distance from 1000 to 300 feet at the last minute and after the 1000 foot buffer had been agreed to in principle? Hmmm. Must have been for someone's benefit. Wonder Whose? Not the General Public's, obviously.
David Pilchard July 24, 2012 at 09:19 PM
It will be interestng to see how they do their measurements (or, rather, REDO them!)
Interrobang July 24, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Doesn't it make sense to add housing near a Metro station?
Concerned MoCo resident July 24, 2012 at 09:27 PM
It's important to also note that Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro, Valerie Ervin and Hans Riemer all WANTED a 1000 foot buffer but they needed a 5th vote for it to pass. As of this morning, there was no 5th vote. The ZTA that passed, passed unanimously, sending a clear signal that the Council sees a public health threat from mega gas stations. Also, Marc Elrich does not take money from developers.
MocoLoco July 24, 2012 at 09:46 PM
LG, that legal memo is worthless. It was meant to credential the County Executive's political support of Costco. Courts will disregard it. The Council made clear this morning that it was considering the ZTA in the context of the entire county, not just the Wheaton Costco.
Commentous July 24, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Chester C--Housing near a Metro isn't as important as a government office building near the Metro. The Council unanimously made that decision for Wheaton.
Richard Rice July 24, 2012 at 11:08 PM
With the Costco store already building @ Wheation Shopping town the traffic and parking are next to impossible already to navigate. Add the gas station, no matter how many pumps and you have more gridlock in the mall than you already have on Connecticut Ave./University Blvd. Where is the wisdom???
Lara Akinbami July 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM
It was clear that to get support for ZTA 12-07, a compromise had to be made. One reason for opposition (irrelevant and wrong, in my opinion) was that a set of conditions has already been promised to Costco in "good faith" and that changing zoning law reneged on the negotiations. Another reason that some Councilmembers may not have signed on is reluctance to apply zoning county-wide that may prevent another site for a mega-gas station from even being considered in the special exceptions process. For this second concern, a compromise was made that enacts protections county-wide that heretofore did not exist. It is indeed a shame that residential uses were not included in the protected uses. But this doesn't automatically give Costco or any other prospective builders of mega-gas station a green light. If the Westfield site does indeed meet the criteria as a parcel where a mega-gas station is an allowed use, then Costco must undergo the special exceptions process. The special exceptions process, however, must be strengthened to consider public health more centrally, and to remove the assumption that unknown exposures are innocent of adverse health effects until proven guilty.
Viviane Pescov July 25, 2012 at 12:07 AM
It shows one thing for sure: Costco doesn't care about the Health &Safety f an enire Community:Kensington Hights! It's time for Costco to show they're community oriented and make an effort towards Good Will and build their Mega Gas Station in a less traffic-congested area. Viviane Pescov
AntonFisher July 25, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Why did not the County Council hire someone to do a study regarding the gas station in the same manner they hired a person to do a study that resulted in killing Wheaton Redevelopment?
Commentous July 25, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Anton--The person who came up with the "better" plan works for the Council. He came up with reasons after the Council decided that (1) BF Saul would receive too much money and/or (2) no commercial businesses would come to Wheaton even if there was new office space available and/or (3) it was extremely important to protect current small businesses in the Triangle from higher costs, even if that would be a product of positive redevelopment. No one says (3) out loud anymore, but statements prior to the divisive decision made clear that it was a big concern to certain Councilmembers, including those who don't live near Wheaton (much like many of the business owners themselves). For that matter, it appears that groups focused on maintaining lower business rents have some Councilmembers' ears. Remember the recently proposed "Wheaton Revitalization Implementation Working Group"? That wording meshes closely with the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton's "Small Business Pledge" (http://astrongerwheaton.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/wheaton-redevelopment-small-business-written-pledge-5-18-12.pdf): "Create a Wheaton Redevelopment Implementation Committee in part composed by members of the Coalition to regularly review and advise on the implementation of the ... redevelopment project." My concern is not the Coalition. It's certain Councilmembers' willingness to hear from them while not listening to Wheaton's residents.
Candace Clagett July 28, 2012 at 03:32 PM
all these people will be lined up to by gas when Costco opens in Wheaton.
Danila Sheveiko July 29, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Dear Candace: "Once you know something, you can't unknow it." - Councilmember Marc Elrich, May, 2012. Kensington Heights has at least 250 single-family residences and about 1,000 people within 1,000 feet of the gas station as proposed. Please check out the graphics and images uploaded above - it will be by far the busiest retail fuel station in the entire County, and just the risk for cancer due to benzene could go up 40 or 60 fold for the nearest homes. What about other various volatile organic compounds, what about carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and ultra-fine patriculate matter? Nobody should be able to "uknown" these things. Respectfully.
David Becker September 13, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I drove by Costco's proposed gas stataion site and saw that the parcel of land is being landscaped and grass seed with hay has been laid down. Apparently, Costco is still planning on pursuing this as the site for it's gas station. If not, you'd think they'd be turning this space into parking; which the Costco is going to desperately need given the tight parking that already exists there.

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