ROCKVILLE, Md. - Costco wants to open a new store next to Westfield Wheaton Mall that includes a large, 16-pump gas station.
It would be the first so-called mega gas station in Montgomery County, but the county council is considering a rule change that would block construction of a gas station at that location.
The Zoning Text Amendment, or ZTA, would require high-volume gas stations to be located at least 1,000 feet away from places like schools, hospitals and parks.
Costco's plan in Wheaton would bring the station much closer to homes than that.
More than 30 people signed up to speak at a public hearing on the issue Tuesday night.
County resident Larry Silverman supports new limits on big gas stations. He's concerned about added gasoline fumes and emissions from idling cars.
"I like Costco gas stations. I hope we have some in the county, just not here," Silverman says.
"The new warehouse store business model places their stores and adjacent mega gas stations in densely populated urban areas such as shopping malls instead of the commercial zones they previously preferred. This raises grave health concerns," says county resident Abigail Adelman.
Resident Pat Mulready suggests Costco work with the county council to write comprehensive legislation for mega stations.
"I would also suggest Costco change this into an opportunity to showcase a store which works with transit-oriented sites. A model for how people who don't have cars can utilize a warehouse store. For example, free or $1 local delivery," Mulready says.
Costco hired an expert to study the possible adverse effects the Wheaton station would have. The study concluded that there would be no significant environmental or health risk to the community.
"Given our extreme safety measures, we submit that we are safer, cleaner and create less adverse effect than most other gas stations throughout Montgomery County irrespective of their size," says Jeff Ishida, Vice President of Real Estate for Costco Wholesale.
Also testifying in favor of Costco was resident Jeff Lawrence, who lives about a mile from Westfield Wheaton mall and regularly drives to the Costco in Beltsville to get gas.
"I look forward to the opening of the Wheaton store and gas station so I can conserve time and energy by shopping and gassing up close to home," Lawrence says.
"Unfortunately, Montgomery County has gained a reputation in the business community as a county that is not friendly to business. We feel that ZTA 12-07 if adopted may further cripple the county's ability to attract and retain businesses in our county," says Mark Rittenberg with the Bethesda Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.
The council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee plans to talk more about the issue at a work session tentatively planned for July 9.
The full text of the ZTA can be read below.
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