Costco Loses Legal Appeal in Effort To Put Large Gas Station at Wheaton Mall

Maryland judges issue ruling in years-long battle


Published:

Maryland appeals court judges have rejected Costco’s argument that Montgomery County officials improperly blocked the company from building a 16-pump gas station at the Westfield Wheaton mall.

Instead, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found there was sufficient evidence to show the fueling station could be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood because of the traffic and fumes it would produce.

Residents and community leaders in the neighborhood who have waged a lengthy battle against plans for the gas station applauded the judicial opinion filed last week.

“This decision upholds the power and duty of County zoning officials to protect the health of County residents against environmental pollution. This decision is a breath of fresh air,” Larry Silverman, a member of the Stop Costco Gas Coalition, said in a prepared statement.

Costco Wholesale Corp. initially filed an application to build the station in 2010, to the dismay of community groups such as the Kensington Heights Civic Association. The company ended up withdrawing its first application, and submitted a new one three years later, according to the appeals court’s opinion.

After a series of hearings that stretched over 17-month period, a county hearing examiner published a report recommending denial of Costco’s application. The Montgomery County Board of Appeals adopted the recommendation in April 2015, stated the 52-page opinion written by special appeals court judges Deborah Eyler, Andrea Leahy and Raymond Thieme Jr.

Evidence put into the record during the hearing indicated pollution from the fueling site could “have adverse impacts linked to the unusual size of the proposed station and its proximity to the residential neighborhoods, the Kenmont pool and the Stephen Knolls School,” the judicial opinion stated.

The proposed gas station would be just to the west of the Costco store at the mall and would sit across a mall access road from a residential area.

Graphic showing the proposed location of the gas station in relation to other properties. Courtesy of Stop Costco Gas Coalition.

Dr. Maria Jison, an expert in pulmonary and respiratory matters who lived near the site of the proposed station, testified that she was concerned about how fumes would affect her family’s health. The risks of negative health effects are heightened for vulnerable populations, such as the students at Stephen Knolls, a public school that serves developmentally disabled children and young adults, she said.

Costco asked the Montgomery County Circuit Court to review the denial, but a judge sided with the appeals board in a December 2015 decision. The company then took the case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

An attorney who has represented Costco in court did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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