Posts about Wheaton Costco
After the Montgomery County Council passed a law that was intended to prevent Costco from opening a mega gas station adjacent to its new Wheaton store, the Planning Board recommended against the gas station.
The next step is a set of 6 hearings before the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings.
In a comments on Wheaton Patch, "ED" says:
I'm happy the hearings are postponed until after the [April 10] Costco opening. I think the residents of Wheaton will be up for a rude awakening when they see the traffic for Costco.
If the Costco will bring in 4,000-5,000 customers per day (per Westfield's estimates a couple of years ago), how many more cars will they bring in if a mega-gas station is offered? I can only hope that someone has a camera when Costco opens and takes the pictures to the hearings.
Just as I previously wrote about the topic, a mega-sized Costco gas station is incompatible with the Wheaton Sector Plan, passed January 2012, that calls for a more walkable urban Wheaton. There are few uses that would impede Wheaton's revitalization and redevelopment than a mega-sized Costco gas station.
Such a use would require extra road infrastructure that would create an unwalkable dead zone. A lot of land that would be better used for more walkable urban formatted amenities would be taken up with bigger multi-lane access roads that will have idling cars lined up at all hours of the day.
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.
Here is an aerial view of a the Woodmore Costco store that has a gas station:
The Costco store in Gaithersburg does not have a gas station:
Finally, here is the Wheaton site. The Costco is scheduled to open April 10:
The Wheaton site is wholly unlike the Woodmore site, which is extremely car-oriented, and has no Metro station or legacy street grid. It is also much more urban and pedestrian-oriented than the Gaithersburg site. The Wheaton site is comparable to the Pentagon City Costco. Just like in Gaithersburg, that store has no gas pumps.
Costco is a nationally successful business that will clearly make a healthy profit at the Wheaton store. I don't think anyone would dispute that the store will be packed from the day it opens. Costco clearly does good business in neighboring Gaithersburg and Arlington without gas pumps.
The next round of hearings is part of the process for special zoning text amendments. The hearings have been rescheduled for April 26, May 1, May 6, May 14, May 17, May 20, May 23 and June 4. All hearings will be at 9:30 am in the Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, Second Floor Davidson Memorial Hearing Room, at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.
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.
Back in January, David argued that Montgomery County could better use the $4 million proposed for subsidizing a Costco at Westfield Wheaton. Costco is still coming to Wheaton. However, the County Executive's Office is now now proposing circumventing well-established gas station permitting processes through a Zoning Text Amendment.
There are many circumstances where circumventing existing zoning is reasonable. However, the environmental implications of a gas station make sidestepping the process misguided in this case.
Costco wants to open up at the former Hecht's site in Westfield Wheaton. Westfield wants to make a deal with them. Eastern Montgomery County and northern DC has a strong customer base and Wheaton has a Metro station on the line with the highest ridership in the system. Many people for miles and many Metro stations away would love to shop at another transit-accessible Costco. We don't need to throw our environmental zoning laws out the window for a very successful national business that already intends to locate in Wheaton.
Location of the proposed Costco gas station. Image from savekh.org.
In the past, I have disagreed with the Kensington Heights Civic Association. In this case, they have very reasonable concerns about having a new large gas station next to their houses because of their poor environmental record. In this case, they aren't anti-neighbors:
Having a Costco in the mall is seen by many in the community as a potentially positive development. The Kensington Heights Citizens Association (KHCA) position is to support the store.As I mentioned before, I don't oppose Costco in Wheaton. The store itself will bring foot traffic and more Metro use in addition to many more automobile trips. I don't think that a Costco store will help or hurt walkability in the short term. (In the long term, there could be disastrous missed redevelopment opportunities.) However, adding a gas station would cross the line into outright harm.
Of great concern, however, to the citizens of the Kensington Heights community is that the Costco development includes a 16-pump gas station adjacent to our residences and the Kenmont Swim and Tennis Club.
We feel that it will negatively impact the neighborhood where there are 250 Kensington Heights homes within 1,000 feet of the station.
Looking at the above map, the gas station would not be immediately accessible by car from University Boulevard. A motorist wishing to purchase Costco gas would have to travel around Westfield Wheaton's winding ring road. They would then get in line for one of the 16 proposed gas pumps. The car infrastructure is not there to support the new gas station.
Since we're talking about a gas station, we're talking only about moving cars, not people. While that's a negative enough proposition, the Westfield Wheaton ring road is a private road and is not subject to county traffic feasibility studies. However, University Boulevard (MD 193) would be, as would Viers Mill Road (MD 586).
A Costco gas station is usually located on an ugly, gas-guzzling suburban arterial like U.S. 1 in Beltsville. While a Costco on its own in the mall could potentially have little effect on Wheaton's walkability in the short term, a gas station certainly would move Wheaton in the wrong direction in the Whirlpool of Induced Demand.
It is puzzling that the same Administration that wants to employ traffic test after traffic test in White Flint, limiting walkable development unless cars could be assured of fast movement, suddenly abandoned its car-centric traffic concerns when Costco came calling.
Montgomery County economic development officials want to spend $4 million to add a Costco to the Wheaton mall.
There are plenty of problems with this. For one, the County Executive is continuing their habit of making plans in secret and trying to lock them in before anyone can object. They briefed the Council in secret and are trying to get approval without a hearing.
The Executive is also proposing to spend a lot of money
to gain jobs of dubious value. There are already Costcos in Gaithersburg and Beltsville, and while one in eastern or central Montgomery County would be convenient for many residents, it's hard to see the importance of spending millions.
But most importantly, this project as designed will push Wheaton even farther from walkability. Right now, the existing mall is not designed for accessibility by pedestrians, and takes up substantial amounts of space near Metro for surface parking lots. Its home page doesn't even list public transportation under "how to get to Westfield Wheaton."
It's a long-term hurdle to making Wheaton into the kind of walkable, transit-oriented place planners and residents want. When, during Wheaton visioning discussions, residents have suggested redeveloping the mall, the response is that it's too expensive to use public money to incentivize Westfield to change things, and Westfield doesn't want to on their own. Now, suddenly, the County wants to use public money after all, but to pay the mall to move in the opposite direction.
The $4 million would go to preparing the site, such as regrading the parking area to the lower left that is on a slope to accommodate a gas station.
Adam Pagnucco writes,
Costco customers drive in, sometimes from areas many miles away, to buy in bulk and leave. They do not travel by Metro or bus. They require a giant parking lot. They do not walk from the Costco site to engage in nearby pedestrian activities. The Costco on Route 1 in Beltsville is a perfect example of the company's business model: a giant big-box on an auto-dominated strip. While one part of the county government is planning to make Wheaton a mixed-use, transit-oriented community, another part of the government is offering a subsidy for car-oriented sprawl. Does this make sense?Some local small businesses feel the Costco would drive them out of business. It's not even clear the Costco would benefit the mall itself. A mall's appeal is to bring together multiple stores so that shoppers need not drive long distances to many stores. Costco, on the other hand, is designed to serve virtually every need in one store. Not only would shoppers probably not walk from a Costco to a nearby coffee shop, library or park, but they probably wouldn't go to a nearby shoe store either.
Montgomery County spans 507 square miles, about 476 of which are not within a mile of a Metro station. If County officials want another Costco, how about picking a suitable commercial area in those 476? Such a site might also not require the extensive regrading that's causing Costco to ask for public money.
Update: Thanks to the many who participated and disagreed in the comments. The core issue is not really about whether a Costco would or would not make Wheaton better or drive other businesses out. There's definitely the question about whether the subsidy is wise, compared to the other ways Montgomery County could spend it. But most of all, it's about whether promoting another big box surrounded by acres of parking with a gas station gets Wheaton closer to the kind of place it should be.
If Costco wanted to build an urban-friendly store in a compact footprint, in a way that promotes some street-facing ground floor retail and facilitates developing the surrounding land as buildings rather than parking lots, then sure, though there would still be the debate over the subsidy. But the Executive doesn't seem to have a larger vision for the area, and designing a Costco this way will just make it harder to evolve Wheaton into a walkable place in the future.
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