Testimony before Martin Grossman, Director of the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings in Opposition to Special Exception Request for S-2863, Costco Wholesale Corporation
Dear Hearing Examiner Grossman:
Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Our non-profit organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington, D.C. region, including the Maryland suburbs, accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We want to express our opposition to the Special Exception request for the Costco automobile filling station – a large scale gas station which will attract vehicle trips from outside the local area. We believe this proposal is wholly inconsistent with the 2012 Wheaton CBD and Vicinity Sector Plan, and antithetical to the goal of promoting transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly development within one half mile of a Metro station. The Wheaton Sector Plan area not only offers high quality Metrorail service, but also extensive bus service and a planned rapid transit service. This concentration of transit services will increase the share of trips made by transit, encourage more walking, and reduce how much people drive in the area.
As a regional organization, we advocate for well-designed transit- and pedestrian-oriented development which focuses more housing and commercial activities within an easy walk of Metro stations and other high quality transit services and historic downtowns. We seek to mitigate existing automobile-oriented uses in transit districts, and prohibit new ones. Reducing auto-oriented uses and their impacts are important to fostering a public realm and private development that better cater to pedestrians rather than prioritize the movement of motor vehicles. Uses such as gas stations, automobile repair services, drive thrus, and similar uses that attract motor vehicular traffic and encourage automobile-oriented designs such as additional driveways, wider driveways, surface parking, and curb cuts should be minimized, reduced, and in some cases, prohibited in transit districts like the Wheaton Sector Plan area. The proposed, a high volume gas station, is an unnecessary new auto-oriented use that would detract from the county’s and our efforts to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment around the Metro station.
The Plan specifically identifies the existing “auto-oriented uses” of the area as one of the key issues to be addressed through the implementation of the Sector Plan. The addition of a large scale gas station would compound the “auto-oriented uses” problem identified in the Sector Plan. We recognize that the site of the gas station is on the outer part of the mall property and Plan boundary. Yet we find the proposed use not a neutral use related to our goals to improve the pedestrian environment, but rather a use that actively degrades the pedestrian environment and works against Sector Plan goals. With such a large scale gas station, additional vehicle trips will be attracted to the transit district from outside the local area simply for the purpose of refueling vehicles with cheaper gasoline. This regional automobile service use contradicts the Sector Plan’s and our goals to reduce vehicle miles traveled. Introduction of a new large scale gas station would directly oppose the Plan’s guidance to:
“Provide better pedestrian connectivity and support safe, secure, and appealing street level activity” (p. 25)
In an area like the Wheaton Sector Plan area, we have often found that the transition from auto-oriented land uses take time, but can be phased in to create more transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly development. The Wheaton Sector Plan accommodates the existing auto-oriented regional mall surrounded by surface parking, but seeks to manage the negative impacts on pedestrians but proposing pedestrian access improvements, pedestrian-oriented street design changes, and encouragement of redevelopment to a more pedestrian-friendly design. Preventing new uses that would further degrade the transit district is also an important part of progressing towards a more pedestrian-friendly Wheaton Sector Plan and Metro station area. The large scale gas station would degrade the pedestrian environment by attracting additional automobile trips to the area and force more automobile-oriented designs for public rights-of-way to accommodate this auto-oriented use. Preventing this kind of use also promotes our overall goals to support greater use of transit, and build safe, walkable places, especially around major transit hubs.
For all of these reasons, the Coalition for Smarter Growth urges denial of the Special Exception application for the Costco automobile filling station.
Thank you for your consideration.