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Reduced Zoning Restriction Passed For 'Mega' Gas Stations

Restriction aimed at Wheaton Costco reduced to 300 feet

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A supporter of the tough zoning requirements holds up a sign as Montgomery County council members debate the matter. An amended, less stringent requirement, was ultimately passed.
Matt Bush
A supporter of the tough zoning requirements holds up a sign as Montgomery County council members debate the matter. An amended, less stringent requirement, was ultimately passed.

The Montgomery County council has approved zoning requirements for so-called "mega" gas stations, in response to concerns over Costco's plan to build such a facility at the Wheaton Mall. The approval came only after major changes to the proposed zoning requirements.

The initial proposal, sponsored by councilman Marc Elrich, would have forced any mega gas station, increasingly common additions to big-box and grocery stores, to be located at least 1,000 feet away from residential areas. Since only four council members supported his plan, one short of what was needed, Elrich amended the required buffer zone to only 300 feet. The buffer also only applies to schools and outdoor public facilities like parks.

That change ended up winning the support of all nine council members, including Phil Andrews, who was considered the swing vote on the initial proposal, and never warmed up to it. He said the new buffer is enough to address health and environmental concerns.

"Three hundred feet is a reasonable and rational and justifiable minimum distance to establish," said Andrews.

Elrich said he doesn't believe 300 feet is enough, but added getting something passed is better than nothing. "I don't know how many cases of cancer are going to be caused," he said. "I don't need to find out how many cases are going to be caused. I don't need to use the neighborhood as a guinea pig and discover that later on down the road that this was not a particularly bright idea for us to have done."

Jeff Ischida of Costco said their current plan for the gas station does not comply with the zoning changes passed today, so they must reconsider their proposal. "This is an outcome we'll have to take a look at," said Ischida. "It's hard to say whether we're disappointed until we really understand the implications of it."

Residents of Kensington Heights, which borders the proposed station, did not conceal their disappointment, as one of the leaders of the neighborhood civic association angrily stormed out of the meeting before the vote.

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