George Kavadoy said rising costs for taxes, labor and environmental compliance took a toll on his BP station, which he had owned at Wisconsin and Highland Avenue for 21 years, some of that time as an Amoco. Meanwhile, he said, gas sales dropped while his land value skyrocketed. Property tax records for 2012 listed the assessed value of the gas station property at $2.2 million, up from $582,000 in 1999.
The station closed in August, and Kavadoy said he recently signed a 20-year lease with TD Bank to build on the site.
“It’s hard to give up a business after 21 years — my mechanics and the community were all like a family — but when the company is losing money, it’s a no-brainer,” Kavadoy said.
Motorists passing through Bethesda will still have options, just not as many and not as centrally located in the downtown office and entertainment district.
Moreover, local officials say making more efficient use of land near Metrorail stations jibes with long-term plans to allow areas like Bethesda and Arlington to accommodate population and economic growth without adding to traffic congestion.
“When you’re trying to promote walkability and an urban environment, I don’t think gas stations are really viewed as an urban amenity,” said Robert Kronenberg, the Montgomery County planning department’s acting area chief for Bethesda and Silver Spring inside the Capital Beltway.
In fact, the gas station issue made news in Montgomery most recently when Wheaton residents successfully fought plans for a 16-pump gas station at a newly opened Costco.
Montgomery Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) said he hasn’t heard any complaints about a lack of options.
“Do I think there are better uses for those properties than gas stations? Yes, I do,” Berliner said. “. . . I don’t perceive gas stations to be something you want on your main commercial street.”
Tabitha Cleveland, 31, of Silver Spring doesn’t share that view. She said many people who rely on downtown Bethesda gas stations won’t be able to afford to live in the new high-rises that will replace them.
“On days when I didn’t fill up and I need gas on the way home, I have to go out of my way,” said Cleveland, who works at the National Institutes of Health, just up the street from the Sunoco. “This is the only station on this strip.”
Industry experts say stations won’t dry up completely in Bethesda, where plenty of demand for gas will remain. But motorists might have to get used to filling up when they pass a station, rather than when the low-fuel light comes on.
Don Fogel, 68, said his Sunoco on Wisconsin at Battery would have folded years ago if not for its convenience store, carwash and auto repair shop. When Donohoe Development Co. approached him through a broker six years ago, Fogel said he realized that he could make enough off the sale to retire.
Donohoe is set to buy the land for a six-story office building, Fogel and a Donohoe official said. Once the Sunoco closes, there will be no gas pumps on Bethesda’s stretch of Wisconsin.
“We’re well aware of that,” Fogel said, “but you can’t stay open just because people want you to be convenient to them.”