(Frederick News-Post (MD) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 23--The old Coca-Cola plant, which once carried a statue of that iconic brand's glass bottle right above its pressed concrete logo, has for years been a familiar marker to those driving in or out of Frederick along North Market Street.
Built in 1947, the building once had about 50 Coke employees, initially bottling the soft drink until 1979 when it began regional distribution from the location.
In 2008, with no room to expand, the plant closed. The 16-foot-tall bottle -- erected in the '60s as part of a marketing campaign -- was moved later that year to Coke's Hagerstown facility, following 55 employees who were transferred earlier.
Since then, the brick-fronted building has sat empty and, until rezoned, unwanted.
Now the city may lose the one developer that has shown interest, Catoctin Overlook, which planned to demolish parts of the two-story building and build 100 apartments and four-story mixed-use complex with office space.
The city's Historic Preservation Commission has recommended to the Planning Commission that 1705 N. Market St. be protected under a special historic district overlay designation. The city has about two dozen locations it considers historically significant but not part of the historic district. These properties are eligible for the overlay.
Catoctin Overlook is rightly worried about the restrictions the overlay could create -- and the increased time, energy and cost to build the project.
Their fears have merit -- the Historic Preservation Commission has its own, long history of unreasonable demands on residential and business owners in the historic district. (There's a reason for the "Hysterical Commission" nickname.)
To be fair, the commission's members have the unenviable task of balancing the preservation of what makes Frederick charming with the needs of a city that is becoming increasingly diverse and has to grow.
The often off-the-cuff, ad hoc, arbitrary mandates once forced by the commission on applicants have quieted through a more-consistent rewrite of guidelines in the early 2000s. However, compliance with those guidelines is still strictly measured in inches rather than yards.
Now the commission wants to weigh in on a property with standards driven more by a wistful sense of nostalgia than what may be historic by any measure of common sense,. And while we can all concede an element of sentimentality has its part when assessing buildings for historic importance, those judgments are better made when assessed through what is actually historic about a site.
We're not sure a few Art Deco features should stand in the way of attracting a project that could benefit Frederick, and the Historic Preservation Commission, while intimately familiar with the circumscribed but small area of the downtown and the rather narrow purview of shed, patio, door and window installation, may not be the best board to weigh the pros and cons of a development proposal this large.
Now, while we appreciate the plant has been around for a long time and is recognizable to a lot of people, we'd hardly call it historic. No events of major importance took place there; the site is way out on North Market and not contiguous with any other representatively historic buildings; and while it has an element of local interest -- the concrete sign -- it's just a brick office building and vacant one at that, which has attracted absolutely no interest as is and is contributing nothing to the tax base. Not even Coca-Cola could do anything with it in the end and abandoned it.
After a hearing from the Planning Commission, the recommendation to approve the historic overlay will go to the Board of Aldermen. We'd urge either body to look long and hard at that request and the offer already proposed by Catoctin Overlook to retain some of the Coke plant's historic features. It may be that we didn't need all this extra government oversight in the first place. However, if aldermen feel it's truly worthy of protection, they should vote to purchase the plant and find some use for it themselves, or let it quietly continue to deteriorate as a historic, yet empty monument to collective nostalgia.
(c)2014 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)
Visit The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) at www.fredericknewspost.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services