A new Costco store is scheduled to open later this year at the Westfield Wheaton Mall in Maryland, but it's a discount gas station attached to that store that has neighbors and council members in Montgomery County concerned.
Large discount gas stations attached to supermarkets or big-box stores are a growing trend. County council member Marc Elrich says the larger size of these new stations means existing zoning laws, meant for the smaller stations of previous decades, must be amended.
"I think if this is going to become a growing trend, we have to start being very careful of where we site these things," says Elrich.
The site of the Costco station, which would have 16 pumps, has residents of the Kensington Heights neighborhood worried for their health. Their properties border the mall, and the proposed gas station would sit less than 350 feet from a swimming and tennis club, and several homes.
"Having 20, 30, 40, and 50 cars lined up idling within a few hundred feet of that kind of location inevitably is going to have health effects," says Karen Cordry, with the Kensington Heights Civic Assocation. "We have 30 gas stations within a 7-minute driving radius of the mall. It's really difficult to believe that with 30 stations ... there is no need to put another station there and create risks of health. We may never know what exactly they are, but why should we risk it?"
Cordry and neighbors want the gas station pushed further back, and a bill authored by Elrich would do just that. The legislation would require any so-called "mega" gas station to be at least 1,000 feet away from a residential neighborhood.
"The farther away you get, the more the the air dissipates," says Elrich. "The closer you are, the higher the concentrations, the greater the level of impaired lung function and lung development. So, at a thousand feet the air seems to dissipate."
Elrich says his bill is not an attempt to stop Costco from building. He and four other council members have co-sponsored the bill, giving it a majority of support should the measure come to a vote.