For more than two years, civic activists in the Kensington suburbs have fought plans for a gas station at a Costco under construction next to the Westfield mall in Wheaton.
Now, responding to the community’s concerns, Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) is trying to block the gas station from being built as currently planned.
At the County Council meeting Tuesday, Elrich is expected to propose legislation that would bar a gas station on the vacant parcel of land southwest of the Costco. A public hearing is scheduled for June.
The Costco is being built on the site of a shuttered Hecht’s department store and is seen as a key part of Montgomery’s effort to stimulate economic development in Wheaton. It is slated to open in October.
But civic activists say the gas station is a public health risk because it is too close to residential neighborhoods. They want the gas station to be moved, possibly to the vacant Ourisman Chevrolet dealership on Veirs Mill Road, more than 500 feet northeast of the Costco store.
The retailer, however, has opposed using another site for the station, which would fuel up to 16 vehicles at a time.
Some council officials said they are concerned with its current location, which is within 1,000 feet of a local swimming pool. “If I had lived in the community surrounding the gas station, I can tell you I would be one of the first people coming to council to say I have a concern about my community’s health,” said Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County), who is co-sponsoring Elrich’s legislation.
The bill bars large gas stations from being built within 1,000 feet of schools or recreational facilities. If the legislation passes, Costco could build a smaller gas station on the site or move it to the vacant dealership.
County staff said the bill is consistent with federal environmental standards released in the fall for locating school sites.
Costco appears to have already started lobbying against the bill. Ervin said Patricia Harris, a prominent land-use attorney who has been retained by Costco, has reached out “to talk [her] out of” supporting the bill. Ervin said she has declined to meet with Harris. Harris and Costco did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has been a supporter of the Costco project. He once backed legislation to allow Costco to bypass a potentially lengthy approval process and build the gas station without public hearings to determine if it is needed or is compatible with the area. But Costco later agreed to undergo that approval process, which is still underway.
Leggett also successfully lobbied the County Council to approve a $4 million subsidy to Westfield, the developer of the Wheaton site, to help secure the Costco deal. Catherine C. Dickey, a spokeswoman for Westfield, said the company would generally oppose any bill that would interfere with the approval process in place.
County planning staff members are assessing the gas station proposal, and the Planning Board is expected to decide whether to move ahead with the proposal in little more than a month.
Dan Sheveiko, chair of the Costco working group on the Kensington Heights Civic Association, said his group has employed attorneys and experts to try to block the propose station. The group has raised about $10,000 so far, but it expects to need another $20,000 to $30,000 before the end.
Sheveiko added that the fight has been exhausting. “We’re relieved that something is getting introduced, because we’re tired of doing battle on our own,” he said.