Main Street Manager Peter Lewnes. Restaurants and little niche businesses line what Michael Molovinsky proudly calls Allentown's Business Barrio.
Well, Lewnes is asking for help at tonight's Zoning Hearing Board meeting, when Rite-Aid will seek permission to demolish what the Main Street Manager considers an "anchor building" in the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay, and one at which Rite-Aid at one time made money. The destroyed building will be replaced by a drive-thru pharmacy instead of a pedestrian-friendly business. Here's his letter.
I'm writing for your support against a corporate takeover of 7th and Allen Street at tomorrow night's zoning hearing board meeting. The meeting starts at 7 PM in city council chambers, first floor city hall (435 Hamilton Street). If you think that 7th Street is worth showing up and voicing your opinion...please come and join in the fight of our lives to keep this important Allentown corridor on track.
7th Street Allentown's development is facing a serious setback tomorrow night. The Rite Aid Corporation is seeking to demolish 602-618 N 7th Street, an anchor building that admittedly requires a ton of renovation but historically housed Rite Aid and served them well as a facility.
The threat lies with what they propose to replace it with. The Seventh Street Development Committee has worked to protect center city from suburban sprawl and becoming an extension of 145 in Whitehall. One recent example of SSDC's involvement was in the recent revision of the city of Allentown's Zoning Code, the results of which sought to ensure that infill development in historic sections of center city - covered now by a Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay - is compatible with the scale and character of it's surrounding neighborhood. (That process was started after AutoZone's proposal to occupy a building along the 19th Street commercial corridor, as well as the suburban-style TD Bank building (built at the corner of 19th and Tilghman Streets) caused such a public outcry. Throughout this more thank 2 year process, SSDC continually advocated for restrictions on big-box, suburban-style development along the corridor - any type of development that would be detrimental to its street-oriented, pedestrian-friendly design.
What Rite Aid is proposing for the corner of 7th and Allen Street flies directly in the face of the results of this public, community-driven process. Rite Aid seeks variances from requirements that have been carefully put in place to protect the character and design of the Seventh Street Corridor. Approving such variances would set a dangerous precedent, making it that much easier for future developers to further decimate the heart of our neighborhood shopping district.
This is especially true since none of Rite Aid's variances relate to any actual hardship. Rite Aid is not new to the corner of 7th and Allen Streets. Prior to leaving the existing building on that corner (due to serious code violations in the property), the pharmacy there – with no setback from the street, no drive-thru, no oversized sign, and in a multi-story building – was one of the chain’s most successful.
We need your help - please forward this email to anyone that cares about Allentown and please show up to show that the community matters in center city.
If you can make it and plan on speaking - please drop me an email and I'll get in touch with you to go over more details.
thanks much - your friend
Updated 12:25 AM: City Council member Michael Donovan Asks Zoners to Deny Application.
Residents of the 7th Street area have brought to my attention that Rite Aid Pharmacy, in its planned move from Hamilton Street to 7th Street, intends to construct a large, suburban style facility with extensive parking that includes space in front of the building. This is an inappropriate plan for that area. The result would be to detract from the atmosphere and design
of a steadily improving urban neighborhood that is based on smaller businesses who would not have the zoning advantages that would be given to Rite Aid.
Many corporations, when building new facilities in urban areas, agree to using designs that are more fitting than those found in suburban communities. I have seen many Rite Aid Pharmacies rely on these designs.
I urge the Zoning Board to deny the variance requests, and ask that they suggest to Rite Aid that they work with the neighborhood and the city to produce a design that works for everyone's benefit.
While I understand Michael's good intentions, this letter should not be considered. A Zoning Hearing Board, unlike most other bodies, is quasi-judicial. A letter from one of the persons who appoints these members creates an appearance of impropriety On top of that, the letter is hearsay. You can't cross-examine a letter. If Allentown City Council wants to be involved, they can formally intervene. But they should avoid ex parte contacts.
Noon Update: Blogger Michael Molovinsky has weighed in on this issue.