SCGC (STOP COSTCO GAS COALITION) members have a range of concerns about the proposed siting of a Mega Gas Station (by Costco) in the Westfield Wheaton Plaza. This page of the website has proven to be the most difficult to construct, in part because the concerns are overlapping, in part because the amount of literature on all this is almost overwhelming. We have decided to attempt to keep this page readable by designating six areas of concern: Air Quality & Health Impacts, Traffic & Parking, Environmental Impact, Noise Pollution, Smart Growth Issues, and No Need. Each of the sections below provides a brief overview and includes some links to additional relevant material. [For references in addition to those included in the sections below please click here.] We realize this page is long; please at least take the time to scan all the way to the bottom, and thanks!
Air Quality & Health Impacts
Automobile exhausts contain a variety of carcinogens (known and suspected), greenhouse gases, and components (chemicals and micro-fine particulates) that cause or exacerbate such respiratory problems as COPD and asthma. The diesel-fueled trucks that deliver gasoline to gas stations emit additional noxious materials. The problems of vehicle emissions are made much worse in the case of mega stations such as Costco proposes because they are so large and they attract a large number of vehicles into such a limited facility that many cars end up waiting in long queues, idling for many minutes.
While an average gas station in Montgomery County does about 1.5 million gallons of sales a year, the Westfield Wheaton Costco station is slated to sell about 12 million gallons annually, with up to 75 vehicles idling in queue at once, up to 20-30 minutes at a time during peak hours, and with 1-6 tanker truck refuels per day. This will make it by far the busiest gas station in the entire County, producing literally tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter daily, yards away from single-family residences, an outdoor community swimming pool, and the Down-County school for children with special needs, including oxygen tanks.
Furthermore, the precise siting of the proposed gas station essentially guarantees that the exhaust fumes will flow downhill toward the nearby homes, school, etc. No plausible barrier wall can prevent this; it can only channel the flow and most scenarios appear to channel the flow more in the direction of the school than would be the case if no wall is erected - which is of course not what is likely to happen.
You may wish to look at one rather comprehensive report on this, available here. A detailed study of links between the particulate materials (soot, micro-fine particulates) in air pollution sources (such as automobile exhausts) and cardiovascular disease, is available here. Our file of references (available here) has a number of articles of interest: we urge you to look at the 2004 report (in Pediatrics) on the effects of particulate pollutants on children's health and compare it with the 2012 action of EPA in which a start has been made in regulating the sources of such emissions - including gas stations.
In addition, our filing to the planning commission, on health matters, is available here). As is the report of our air quality expert, available here).
Traffic & Parking
Traffic congestion in MoCo has been so bad for so long that most people cannot even stand to hear about it, much less be stuck in it. It is part of the overall reality of the DC metropolitan area as is discussed in many newspaper articles. Now that Costco has filed its new Special Exception application (S-2863) and the various elements of the filing are available (see the relevant section on our BACKGROUND page), we have begun to evaluate the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA). [For a reasonably concise and clear discussion of TIAs click here).] We do not believe Costco's TIA is accurate or appropriate. Our own preliminary analysis (click here) indicated that the newly-projected siting of the mega gas station (look again at the map on our HOME page) is virtually guaranteed to make traffic within the plaza much worse. As you know if you are familiar with the area - especially in the extended holiday season - when traffic jams up inside the plaza it causes rather serious jams at the points of access from the surrounding roads. If you've been in log jams on University Boulevard trying to go from Kensington to or past the plaza, you know what we mean!
Additional materials relevant to Traffic and Parking are our filing on Costco's traffic impact analysis (available here) and the report of our traffic analyst (available here).
To download a PowerPoint file showing the projected impact of the proposed gas station on traffic congestion, click here.
Such impacts can be thought of in local, regional, and the more global context. The local air quality impacts have been discussed above; as to the regional and global contexts - well we just won't go there, now. An entirely different sort of environmental impact that concerns us is ground water contamination. Gas leaks, drips, and run-off are a concern with any gas station and they are most serious for mega stations which process much higher volumes. [Go here) for a description of a community devastated by a gas station leak.] While Costco has promised to build the station to stringent standards, the Westfield Wheaton Plaza site presents unique problems. Because of its size it would be in essence a regional underground gasoline storage facility. Gas stations typically have a monitoring well in place to provide more information about whether an underground leak of petroleum products is occurring. We have been told by Costco, however, that this station will not have a monitoring well. Why? Because, Costco said, drilling a hole in the hill on which Wheaton Plaza sits could be a conduit for contamination - a short cut connecting oil and water. The geology of the Plaza area includes a number of ground water formations (both shallow and deep), right under or close to where Costco's giant underground gas tanks would be placed. The area has been described as a honeycomb of small streams, surrounding the mall property and draining into the Rock Creek and Silver Creek basins. The ground water under the hill and in the surrounding areas could significantly increase the severity of any petroleum product leak. Put most simply, the proposed site involves tricky and sensitive terrain - so tricky that Costco cannot even utilize its normal monitoring methods. Clearly, this is not the site for placing any gas station, much less one that is equivalent to 6-8 normal stations crammed into one tiny area. For more information on the water quality issue, click here.
In addition, we filed a document related to Westfield/Costco's inadequate handling of Forest Buffer issues (available here). And the Audubon Naturalist Society filed a document supporting our position on the Forest Buffer and providing information as to Westfield/Costco's shoddy stormwater run-off management system (available here).
Our webmaster published an article in the Wheaton Patch (6 February 2013) about the connections between Westfield's and Costco's reliance on an invalid exemption from having to file a Forest Conservation Plan and the reality that their shoddily constructed stormwater management system will lead to contamination of ground water that ultimately reaches the Chesapeake Bay. The article, which generated considerable interest (and the prepared Email on the subject posted on the TAKE ACTION page of this website), is available here.
Any large scale commercial installation generates noise, glare from lighting, and other impacts that our society acknowledges as undesirable and seeks to mitigate. For a discussion of what Costco is required (by law or code) to do to mitigate the effects of the proposed gas station, and may in fact do, look here. Any citizen of MoCo is aware of noise pollution, etc. and knows that, while the County has regulations "on the books", the regulations are inadequate, at least in part because they are rarely enforced; indeed, they are almost impossible to enforce. As with so many of the 'problems' that we generate in our efforts to improve the economy, satisfy needs (or wants), etc., we find ourselves unable (or unwilling?) to balance quality of life issues with the real need to solve 'bigger' problems. When one neighborhood objects to, e.g. noise pollution, is that really a NIMBY issue? Isn't the probability that mega gas stations are "the wave of the future" a matter of concern for ALL neighborhoods? We insist that this is a NOBY issue and that we must work to protect everybody's back yard.
Smart Growth Issues
For an overview of the components of smart growth, look here. All entities trying to implement smart growth, including Montgomery County, agree that one essential element is to base as much development as possible around mass transportation centers (such as Metro stations) and make access to such stations as pedestrian friendly as possible; this is one way to reduce automobile use and traffic congestion.
Our filing about the Sector Plan and how Costco does not comply with Smart Growth directives may be found here.
A high-capacity gasoline filling station is neither "transit-oriented development" nor "Smart Growth". The proposed Costco mega gas station would be sited less than 1/3 mile from the Wheaton Metro platform. [Look here for an aerial view.] A 16-nozzle mega gas station that will pump an estimated 12 million gallons of gas per year (Costco's estimate) works out to about 2,750 cars per day (estimating an average fill-up at 12 gallons and daily operation of 364 days). Is this the appropriate development for a plot of land that is within walking distance of a major Red Line Metro station and a large Metro bus station? We don't think so! And we're betting you agree that a high-capacity gas station is not smart growth!
As explained on the BACKGROUND page, to be able to obtain a Special Exception permit, an applicant must show there is a "need" to build a new station. Our detailed analysis (available here) shows that such a "need" does not exist and that to argue it does is to ignore the reality of the many gas stations easily accessible to residents of the local neighborhoods impacted by the proposed Costco mega gas station. The analysis also connects with the reality (see above) that the proposed station is in a "Smart Growth Area". We urge you to read the analysis and see if you can find a rational basis for supporting the proposed mega gas station siting based on any definition of "need". If you have any doubts about the assertion that there is no need, look at the Google map available here. Also, consider the fact that if the proposed gas station were a small gas station we would not be discussing the need because there is no need: there are no lines at the current gas stations, no lack of variety of types of gas, types of distributors, etc. We may have a "want" (for cheaper gas), but price of gas cannot be a determining factor in the approval process. If the need for a small gas station is unfounded then the "need" for a large gas station is likewise unfounded and the "want" for cheap gas must be considered irrelevant.
Our detailed filing rebutting Costco's "market analysis" of the "need" for the proposed gas station is available here.