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Planning Board Recommends Denial of Costco Gas Station in Wheaton

SILVER SPRING – After reviewing an analysis from their planning staff and hearing testimony from the applicant and scores of residents, the Montgomery County Planning Board last night recommended denial of a proposed special exception to allow a 16-pump Costco gas station at the Westfield Wheaton Mall. The Board will forward its recommendations to the Hearing Examiner for a hearing and a final decision by the county Board of Appeals.

A special exception permits a use that is not allowed by right in a given zone, but may be approved if certain conditions are met. The public hearing by the Hearing Examiner is scheduled for March 11, 15, 18 and 22.

Planning Board members, voting 3-2 to recommend denial of the special exception request, stated that a large gas station would run counter to the one of the main goals of the Wheaton Sector Plan, which is to encourage transit-oriented development. Led by Commissioner Casey Anderson, who made the motion to recommend denial, a majority of the Board agreed that the Costco gas station encouraged automobile use and development tied to vehicular travel rather than moving toward making development compatible with the Wheaton Metro station and planned rapid transit lines.

Anderson said transit is “the cornerstone” of the sector plan, which sets zoning, land use and outlines a 15-year vision for how Wheaton should grow and change. “We’re trying to go toward transit-oriented development, not away from it,” he said. Although the sector plan did not change most of the mall’s commercial zoning, Anderson said a mega-gas station near the new Costco store would nevertheless run contrary to the plan’s overall vision and goals by emphasizing car use.

Staff had recommended denial of the special exception request because, they said, the proposed gas station had the potential to create adverse health impacts for nearby residents due to the gas station’s location, size and the expected queuing of vehicles at the pumps. After researching air quality and other data, planners concluded that the applicant underestimated the health risks to nearby residents, citing the potential for idling vehicles to create a hot spot of emissions.

Of the approximately 50 people who testified before the Board last night, the majority requested that the application be denied. Many of those testifying were parents of students at the nearby Stephen Knolls School concerned about the respiratory health of their children. Those in support of the special exception said it would save car trips because they would not have to drive as far to fill up their tanks with discounted gas.

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