Photo by J.J. Smith on Flickr.

The Montgomery County Council passed a law specifically to stop Costco from building a large gas station adjacent to a residential neighborhood in Wheaton. Now, Costco has made another proposal that would simply move it 300 feet to the east.

A gas station is not appropriate for the future Costco site at Westfield Wheaton. Underground gas tanks have a tendency to leak, and the proposed site is adjacent to people swimming at the Kenmont Swim and Tennis Club.

A gas station also contributes to making Wheaton more car-oriented and less walkable, moving it in the wrong direction in the Whirlpool of Induced Demand.

The recently approved Wheaton Sector Plan includes provisions to make Wheaton more walkable.  As the surrounding area becomes more vibrant and economically successful, the large Westfield parking lots represent ideal opportunities for urban-formatted housing and amenities right near the Wheaton Metro.

But a new, jumbo-sized Costco gas station would create a large, unwalkable dead zone, add pollution, and bring constant traffic jams, all making redevelopment much more difficult. The Montgomery County DOT will be especially reluctant to design any roads for pedestrians instead of cars with massive numbers of vehicles constantly traveling to and from the gas station.

When the County Council rejected the previous gas station proposal, it passed a bill that bans large gas stations from being within 300 feet of schools or recreation centers.  The original bill prohibited gas stations within 1,000 feet of schools or recreation centers, which originally seemed to have the votes to pass until intense lobbying from Costco changed several councilmembers’ minds.

Costco’s new gas station location proposal is 300 feet to the east of the rejected site.

Top: 2010 proposed Costco gas station location. Bottom: 2012 proposed Costco gas station location.  Note that the new location is just to the east of the line that delineates 300 feet to the swimming pool.  Diagrams are based on documents from the Kensington Heights Civic Association.

Altering a bad proposal so its location is a few feet to the east doesn’t change that it’s a bad idea.  Costco has also already said that they will open the Wheaton location with or without the large gas station.  Montgomery County has already given a $4 million subsidy to Costco.  They should respect the spirit of the County Council’s decision and drop the gas station rather than cynically trying to exploit a loophole.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master’s in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place’s form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them.  He lives in downtown Silver Spring.