Ambivalence over Coke sends Pendergrass on fact-finding trip


Elected officials who visit far-off businesses at taxpayers' expense will usually tell you they're making the trip to entice a company to set up shop in their district.

Not Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. She flew to Cincinnati at taxpayers' expense Thursday to check out her perception that a Coca-Cola bottling plant and regional headquarters may not be right for her district.

Meanwhile, other officials, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer and County Executive Charles I. Ecker, are seeking to convince Coke that Maryland and Howard County are the real thing.

"I'm trying to keep an open mind," Pendergrass said, "but I come in feeling this is not the best use for that property."

Pendergrass told her constituents in a May 14 letter that Coke is looking at the property -- the Freestate Raceway parcel at U.S. 1 and Gorman Road -- as a possible site for a service center that would include a bottling plant and a regional headquarters.

Using the property that way probably would require a zoning change, Pendergrass said -- something she is not sure she approves of. The problem, she says, is that site is surrounded by a residential community. Other commercial properties nearby are on the east side of U.S. 1, and Pendergrass does not want to cross the line.

Pendergrass is also concerned about the amount of water a bottling plant might use and about the number of trucks that would be coming in and out of the plant -- 500 a night between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., she was told.

Pendergrass said she has written a letter to the governor and a memo to Ecker outlining her concerns, but has yet to hear from either of them.

One of the reasons she flew to Ohio, she said, was to get a better picture of what a market service center might look like in a residential community. The Cincinnati plant is just such a center and is in a residential neighborhood, she said. In addition, Pendergrass wanted to see firsthand the effects of heavy, late-night truck traffic.

County Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut said he supports the efforts to bring Coke to the county and believes the company would have a significant involvement in the community.

Farragut said he understands the concerns Pendergrass has about her district and appreciates her having an open mind about the possibility of Coke coming here. He said he supports her trip to Cincinnati and feels it is an appropriate use of government money. "There's nothing like seeing things firsthand," he said.

Ecker said he had no comment about the Pendergrass trip.

Coke offered to fly Pendergrass to Cincinnati in a corporate jet, but she refused.

"It was very tempting, but I felt the citizens would rather pay [transportation costs] than have me riding in a corporate jet when I may have to vote on this" in a future zoning case, Pendergrass said.

"This is not a time to look to spend taxpayers' money," she said. "I hate to spend it, but residents told me, 'This is your job, we expect you to go.' "

Pendergrass said the trip cost about $500. She said she will report her findings at 8 p.m. June 10 at Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage.

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