ROCKVILLE– The Montgomery County Council passed a zoning text amendment Tuesday to require large gas stations to be placed father from areas with sensitive populations with an 8-1 vote after a clash between Costco and a civic association.
The decision occurred in the wake of Costco requesting a special exception to place a large gas station outside its Wheaton store which would be less than 300 feet away from homes, the previous County standard.
Council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer voted to approve the amendment, and Nancy Floreen opposed, according to a news release.
Previously a gas station that pumped 3.6 million gallons of gas per year had to be a minimum of 300 feet away from a school, park or playground, daycare center or outdoor use for the purpose of civic or institutional use, for recreation or for entertainment, according to the release. The standard was approved by the previous council in 2012.
Zoning text amendment 15-07 would increase the minimum to 500 feet and add environmental attributes and dwelling units to the list of sensitive land uses, according to the release.
The council members’ discussion about large gas station locations started after Costco Wholesale executives requested a special exception to locate a large gas station at its store in Wheaton, according to the release.
Members of the Kensington Heights Civic Association opposed the special-exception request.
Danila Sheveiko, the previous president of the Kensington Heights Civic Association, said Costco representatives asked for a special exception to locate a mega gas station 118 feet away from single-family residences, adjacent to an outdoor swimming pool and a school.
Sheveiko said the amendment will not determine the fate of the proposed Costco gas station because the case will be grandfathered with the previous County Council standard.
According to the release, Floreen (D-at large) said the gas station’s fate should be determined by the local conditions. The existing process for conditional uses accomplishes that objective without unnecessarily excluding opportunities for businesses, Floreen said in a statement included with the release.
The case was later adopted by a county attorney. Representatives of the county and of Costco Wholesale had an oral argument in November after Costco appealed. Circuit court Judge Gary Bair did not decide whether to issue the special exception, saying he needed more time to review legal documents.
Rob Leuck, Costco Wholesale vice president for operations, did not mention a consequence of the amendment in his statement about the vote.
“We look forward to the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s ruling on our appeal of the denial by the County Board of Appeals of our request for a special exception to build the Westfield Wheaton Shopping Center gas station,” Leuck said.
Leigh Strope, Costco spokesperson, said Costco representatives declined to comment aside from the statement.
Sheveiko said he was excited for other Montgomery County residents who would be able to avoid lengthy periods of trials for cases involving large gas stations, but expects Costco executives to appeal again once the Bair announces his decision.
Elrich said he supported the amendment because it would prevent the long queues of drivers utilizing the gas station from being located within 300 feet of resident areas and schools.
He said in a statement he was concerned that exposure to car exhaust and fumes that would possibly be a hazard to human health.
“We do know that anyone forced to breathe car exhaust and gas fumes constantly because a mega-station locates near their home or where they play cannot be good for their long-term health,”
Elrich said. “This ZTA guarantees mega-stations will be located a safe distance from residents, schools and places with people congregate.”