The Morning Call published a letter from former Allentown Redevelopment Authority director Karen Beck Pooley in which she lauds the decision of the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board for its rejection of the variance Rite Aid sought in order to move to Seventh Street.  Our subsidiary, the Community Action Development Corporation, operates an award-winning Main Street Program on Seventh Street.  In her letter, Karen takes a pot-shot at us for siding with the company.  No mention of the remarkable work we’ve done on that street and in the neighborhood.  No mention of the work we have done that has earned us an array of local and national awards for our work as advocates, organizers and service providers.  Just the pot-shot.

To be sure, I agonized over the decision we made.  I even, very privately, threatened a regional boycott of the store while I was taking the company’s side in the dispute.

Well, here is the balance sheet on that gut-wrenching dilemma.  The reasons for supporting the variance: the company threatened to hold up the $600 million development downtown and, with it, thousands of jobs, millions in tax base, vendor opportunities, and the salvation of the city; redevelopment of an obsolete building on Seventh Street, foot and auto traffic that would surely boost business at nearby stores, and jobs in the neighborhood.  Plus, the company agreed to turn over part of the land in the setback for community use and work with us on an urban façade design and signage.

The reason to oppose the variance: setback.  Really – setback. 

I just don’t get it.  How one does come to the conclusion that setback of one building on Seventh Street is more important than all of those other beneficial outcomes? 

We still don’t know what the cost to the city of rejecting that variance will be.  They are considering suing our city.  How much will be spent to make that lawsuit go away?  The damage from that decision is still unclear. 

But as much as Karen is right that setback matters, sometimes you just have to cut the deal.