The 800 people who crowded into Abraham Lincoln High School’s auditorium last week knew what local elected officials and civic leaders were going to say about a proposed methadone clinic at 7900 Frankford Ave.
The politicos and activists strongly oppose an effort by an outfit called Healing Way to dispense the powerful drug methadone to addicts looking to kick the habit.
The Mayfair and Holmesburg residents were hoping to hear from the building owner who leased the property and one of the attorneys affiliated with Healing Way.
Mayfair Civic Association president Joe DeFelice announced to the crowd that Dennis Kulp, owner/broker at RE/MAX Eastern and owner of the Frankford Avenue property, left him a voice mail message saying his attorney advised him not to attend.
“Booooooooo,” the crowd responded.
DeFelice went on to say that Carl Primavera, a zoning lawyer whose firm obtained the permits for Healing Way from the city Department of Licenses and Inspections, did not return his phone call.
The civic leader was hopeful the attorney would make an unannounced appearance.
“Carl?” DeFelice called out, getting no response.
The people who attended the July 26 meeting signed petitions opposing the 4,830-square-foot clinic and left with the understanding that the next big date in the saga will be Wednesday, Aug. 31.
City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski has called for a hearing in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The session is set for 1 p.m. at 1515 Arch St., 18th floor.
The councilwoman is paying for a bus to transport neighbors.
Krajewski and others are dismayed that the people behind Healing Way did not alert the community of their plans.
“They were very sneaky,” she said.
The councilwoman told residents that the ZBA might not be able to revoke the permits because the property is zoned C-2, which allows for a methadone clinic as long as there are no overnight stays.
Still, the operators will have some explaining to do.
“We’ll know exactly who they are,” Krajewski said.
DeFelice and Holmesburg Civic Association president Fred Moore co-hosted the two-hour meeting.
Joining Krajewski on stage were state Reps. Kevin Boyle and Mike McGeehan, state Sen. Mike Stack and Karen Gurmankin, an aide to U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
State Rep. Mark Cohen, whose legislative district is a good distance from the proposed site, was also in attendance. The Democratic minority-party chairman of the Human Services Committee, he joined the others on stage to declare his opposition.
A bunch of candidates in November’s municipal election also attended to voice their opposition.
There was no microphone for neighbors to argue for or against the clinic, though they were able to write questions and comments on index cards that were read by the two civic leaders.
A bunch of Northeast community groups have also weighed in against the clinic, which would be on the northwest corner of Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street. They include the Mayfair Business Association, Mayfair Community Development Corporation and Friends of Summerdale Civic Association.
Before opening, the clinic must be approved by state and federal officials.
Kulp, the building owner, wrote a letter to Dr. Eli Avila, secretary of the state Department of Health, stating his opposition to a permit to operate, citing a lack of transparency by Healing Way and the negative effect it would have on the community.
It was back in March that Kulp agreed to lease space for a medical facility. The building also includes Re/MAX offices, an electrical supply company and 11 apartments.
“At the time, there was no mention that the property would be used as a methadone clinic,” Kulp wrote to Avila.
Healing Way has hired contractors who have put about $100,000 in renovations into the building. Kulp is willing to refund the cost of renovations and lease payments, but the offer has not been accepted.
In his letter to health department officials, Stack noted that the location — a former bar — is close to schools, churches and day-care centers.
In 1999, the state passed a law prohibiting methadone clinics from opening within 500 feet of a school, playground, church, park, house or child-care center.
However, in 2007, a federal appeals court ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia argued the case against the state law.
Moore, the Holmesburg Civic Association president for the last 10 years, worries that riders on the SEPTA Route 66 bus would encounter clinic patients.
In addition, he believes the city’s definition of medical facility is too broad, allowing everything from a dentist to an abortion clinic. Also, he questions Healing Way’s qualifications. The owners are said to run a Center City cash-for-gold business.
“A pawn shop is going to run a methadone clinic?” he asked.
Boyle, whose district includes the proposed clinic, called on Mayor Michael Nutter to get involved in the issue.
The lawmaker said an estimated 500 to 750 people are expected at the clinic each day, adding that the neighborhood can’t handle it.
“There’s absolutely no parking,” he said.
Boyle said similar treatment facilities are a couple of miles away, and another is not needed. He pointed to Frankford as a neighborhood that has gone “downhill big time” due, in part, to a high number of treatment facilities.
“The Northeast says no to this methadone clinic,” he said.
The property has been vacant since a 2008 shooting outside of the Last Call bar. McGeehan said it makes no sense to replace a nuisance bar with a methadone clinic.
“Are you crazy?” he asked.
Opposition to the clinic has been an easy sell in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Donny Smith, of Tudor Street, collected petitions at a recent Pennypack Park Music Festival concert. “There are enough methadone clinics already,” he said. “We don’t want one on Frankford Avenue.”
Pete McDermott, who grew up on Shelmire Avenue and lives on Longshore Avenue, thinks methadone clinics don’t belong in residential and commercial areas. McDermott said Northeast residents have a reputation as being complacent, but he was happy to see the large turnout at the meeting.
“It’s great that people came out one night, but we need every resident not to lay off the gas pedal,” he said.
Paul Costello, a Vista Street resident who heads the Tacony/Holmesburg/ Upper Mayfair Town Watch, views the clinic as having the potential to negatively impact the neighborhood in a big way.
“It will add more blight and crime,” he said.
Milt Martelack, of Aldine Street, predicts that quality of life will go down and crime will go up if the clinic opens. He is optimistic the doors will remain closed.
“This was a heck of a turnout,” he said of the meeting. “It will be the community that is going to shut this down.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org