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Wheaton Costco Gas Station Zoning Up For Vote

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Residents near the Wheaton mall are concerned about car emissions so close to homes and recreation areas.
Matt Bush
Residents near the Wheaton mall are concerned about car emissions so close to homes and recreation areas.

The Montgomery County council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill that would dictate where a so-called "mega" gas station can be built by Costco at the Wheaton Mall.

The bill would require all "mega" gas-stations — the larger such facilities typically associated with big-box and grocery stores — to be at least 1,000 feet away from residential areas. Costco's plans for the station in Wheaton would put it about 300 feet from the Kensington Heights neighborhood, where residents fear adverse health effects from the higher number of cars that idle at such large stations as they wait to get gas.

The bill has four sponsors, meaning it needs only one more vote to pass, despite an opinion from the county attorney that the measure is unconstitutional. Two council members have yet to say how they'll vote: Phil Andrews and Craig Rice. Rice was an initial co-sponsor, but later dropped his name after hearing from scientists who've studied the issue.

"The science is still out, and we're not sure what the proper distance is, what the exact health implications might be," says Rice. "So, I'm kind of swayed to not be sure as to where I am on this. Whether this is something we need to take a look at all our existing gas stations."

Costco says it has similar stations closer to residential areas in California, where environmental laws are considered tougher than in Maryland.

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