A County Council committee debated a proposed amendment Monday that would increase the minimum distance between gas stations and “sensitive land uses” for environmental and health reasons.
The Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee, led by Council member Nancy Floreen, discussed revising a law that currently requires gas stations that pump more than 3.6 million gallons per year be at least 300 feet from any school, park, playground, day care center or outdoor recreational area. The proposed amendment would increase this distance to 500 feet for new stations or those wishing to expand, but would not affect existing stations. It would also add private homes and environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands, streams and rivers, to the list of lots requiring a minimum distance from stations, the committee explained.
Council member Marc Elrich, the lead sponsor of this proposed revision, called for modifying the current minimum distance, which was approved in 2012. He said several fellow council members, including Hans Riemer, Nancy Navarro, Sidney Katz, Craig Rice, Tom Hucker and Roger Berliner, support this change for environmental and health reasons.
“Mega gas stations present a risk to the public health and general welfare of individuals nearby, and our existing law does not reflect the current scientific understanding that highlights a public health concern,” Elrich said, citing studies that reportedly link vehicle emissions to asthma and heart disease.
“The council has chosen on a number of cases to decide that since there is no absolute certainty of safety that we would err on the side of protection. And I think that if you were just looking at the scientific evidence for this, you’d have an excellent case for saying ‘err on the side of protection,’” Elrich said.
Jeff Zyontz, legislative analyst for the county, said some of the studies analyzing adverse health effects contradict one another. Regardless, this proposed amendment would eliminate “nuisance or burden” aspects that come with living near a gas station, including increased traffic and noise, he said.
However, some members of the committee did not see the need for this revision.
Council member George Leventhal said he is “not entirely sure what purpose this ZTA (zoning text amendment) will serve” aside from protecting nearby neighborhoods from the specific set of circumstances living near a gas station brings, including odor and traffic. However, he added that he has not yet decided how he plans to vote on the matter.
Officials at Costco Wholesale want to build a gas station near the Westfield Wheaton mall, but have faced opposition from the community since 2010. As previously reported in The Sentinel, Costco first proposed a mega-gas station that year that would pump about 12 million gallons per year, nearly eight times the amount pumped annually at a standard station, according to the Stop Costco Gas Coalition.
Costco filed for special exception in 2011, which was denied after the council approved the 300-foot minimum distance the following year. Later that year, the company filed for special exception again, and the Board of Appeals then denied the exception earlier this year.
Costco attorneys challenged the conclusion that its gas station would pose health consequences to the community despite the company’s meeting national standards used to measure these impacts.
However, the proposed amendment would not affect Costco or any other gas station that applied prior to when the current zoning law took effect, so it would instead follow the old code, Zyontz clarified at Monday’s meeting.
The committee is scheduled to discuss this amendment after the August recess, said Neil Greenberger, legislative information officer for the County Council.