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Costco Musters Consultants Once More for Gas Station Open House

Environmental and site design experts answered questions about plans and studies that the Montgomery County Planning Department found fault with earlier this month.

Costco's open house Wednesday night in Kensington was a familiar set-up.

Just as it did last April, Costco brought in consultants to stand behind tables and answer community members' questions about the gas station the major retailer wants to build in Wheaton.

Whether Costco will be able to apply for a building permit is a question ultimately for the Montgomery County Board of Appeals. But first the county's Planning Board will weigh Costco's special exception application on Feb. 28, taking into consideration a negative review by the Planning Department.

The Costco store in Wheaton is set to open April 10--after the special exception hearings in March.

Not much seems to have changed since the previous open house, except that Costco has shifted the proposed site a few hundred feet to the east--in response to the County Council's decision last summer to create a buffer zone between large gas stations and community amenities such as pools.

It's difficult to find someone who has not already chosen sides in the controversy. Supporters say they look forward to the convenience of cheap gas near their homes, while opponents say the environmental and health risks are too great.

"I can see why the people who live near it wouldn't want it, but I think it's a real plus for Wheaton and Montgomery County in general," said Kim de Groot, who lives near Newport Middle School, where the open house took place.

Wheaton residents Annette and Christian Laguerre wore "Yes! Costco Gas" stickers at the open house. The Laguerres recently became Costco members and they said they are hoping that the Costco and its gas station improve the quality of the Westfield Wheaton mall. They also said they hope that the lower gas prices at Costco would make prices more competitive at other area gas stations.

Kensington resident Aaron Tucker said he had examined Costco's special exception application materials beforehand and remained unconvinced by Costco's consultants.

"I don't think it's necessary, and I think it's a bad idea," he said. "Despite what people say, there will be effects."

It has been a struggle of more than three years for opponents, but the negative Planning Department report and some recent attention from state legislators seem to have served as encouragement.

"For the first time, I'm somewhat optimistic," said Larry Silverman, an adjunct environmental law professor at Johns Hopkins University. Silverman opposes the proposed gas station as an environmental and health hazard.

He sees Wheaton at the cusp of a growing trend: big-box retailers moving into densely populated urban areas and local governments struggling to determine whether to erect safe buffers. It is, what he calls, "a bridge too far."

"If Costco wins here, it will have national implications," Silverman said. "We're shaping the future."

Kim de Groot February 22, 2013 at 08:05 PM
Taxes are an important consideration. Without a MoCo Costco station, members' sales taxes will continue to go to PG County instead of here. Members will do their shopping in PG at the same time they get gas, which means more sales taxes lost. We, and others we know, do this now and the temptation will be to keep the habit. Also, this station is going to be built to the strict standards of the California Air Resources Board using the best technology available. I really hope the station is approved.
MocoLoco February 22, 2013 at 08:38 PM
I disagree that people will skip the Wheaton Costco to drive to the Beltsville Costco, just so they can buy gas there. Those lines in Beltsville are ridiculous. More likely, they will go to Wheaton Costco and buy their gas from a local station. If they want Costco-like prices without the line, they will bring cash to Econoway just down the street.
Viviane Pescov February 23, 2013 at 03:54 AM
Why can't Costco show some consideration, respect and caring for the Health & Safety of the Kensington Heights Community? After all they are the ones who shop at Wheaton Plaza and they've been for years! It's up to Costco, Westfield & Montg Co ro find a place to install The Mega Gas Station closer to commercial and far away from homes; Stephen Knolls School & The Kenmont Swim & Tennis Pool! Costco sells Children's toys but does Costco care for Children's health? VP
Viviane Pescov February 23, 2013 at 04:12 AM
How would you feel it the Mega Station was installed next to your house or backyard? You would inherit Pollution; Traffic & Loud Noises from early morning till 9:30pm!
Jim Core February 25, 2013 at 02:42 AM
Taxes are not a County issue. The taxes are State taxes. There are no local sales taxes in the State of Maryland. The real problem is that this station is a monstrosity which is going to pump 10 to 12 times that of a normal station. The regulations on the books were designed for much smaller stations. The regs have not caught up with the science. These mega stations are a game changer that present real health risks for communities when they are wedged into existing neighborhoods. Check out http://www.ehjournal.net/content/10/1/67. One of the compelling quotes is below: “An ecological association was found between ambient air emissions of volatile organic compounds and brain cancer incidence in Indiana, USA [27], and a recent study indicated that air pollution at the residence increased the risk for breast cancer [28]. Benzene at relatively high occupational concentrations is a known leukemogen, and a few studies have suggested that ambient concentrations near point sources [29] and traffic [30] might be associated with risk for hematological cancers.”

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