A methadone clinic is not a permitted use of a property that is zoned C-2, the Zoning Board of Adjustment wrote in its findings of fact and conclusions of law, which was prepared as it nears a court challenge in connection with the proposed facility at 7900-04 Frankford Ave.
On March 13, the ZBA issued a ruling revoking a permit for The Healing Way, which is appealing to Common Pleas Court. As that court date nears, the zoning board last week outlined its reasons.
The Department of Licenses and Inspections erred in issuing the permit, the ZBA ruled, pointing out that the Philadelphia Zoning Code does not identify methadone clinics as a specifically authorized use. Medical offices, hospitals and medical centers are permitted under C-2 regulations, but the board ruled that methadone clinics do not fall within any of those categories.
“Methadone clinics did not exist at the time the code was written. It is therefore unlikely that City Council, in authorizing medical offices, contemplated a facility that would serve such a high volume of patients on a daily basis,” the board wrote.
In addition, the ZBA ruled, L&I should have refused the permit because the proposed use would have created a condition of “multiple structures per lot,” which is prohibited.
The vote was 4-1 to affirm the appeal. Voting to sustain the appeal were chairwoman Lynette Brown-Sow and members Samuel Staten Jr., Carol Tinari and Jeff Rush. Peter Gonzales voted to deny the appeal.
L&I issued the use permit on Jan. 11, 2011, and the Healing Way obtained building permits for interior alterations of the 4,830-square-foot property. Neighbors appealed to the zoning board in July of that year and the case was heard on Aug. 31, 2011. Staten and Tinari were absent from the hearing. The ZBA did not rule for more than six months.
The proposed clinic would occupy a first-floor tenant space at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street that most recently housed the Last Call bar, which closed in 2008 after a shooting outside the establishment. Dennis Kulp, broker/owner of RE/MAX Eastern, whose offices are next door, owns the building. The clinic would operate daily from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would serve about 200 patients per day. A doctor, counselors, a registered nurse, insurance administrators and secretaries would staff it.
Services to be provided would include administering daily medication, drug counseling, evaluation of new patients and addiction-related medical testing, including urine and blood testing. Methadone is used to wean people off drugs and is usually administered in liquid form.
Security would be provided inside and outside the facility. There would be five off-street parking spaces, four of which would be dedicated to staff use. Many residents of Holmesburg and Mayfair have fought the plan for more than a year and have been joined in opposition by elected officials. There have been large rallies at the site and in Abraham Lincoln High School’s auditorium. Opponents have cited issues such as traffic congestion and the clinic’s proximity to houses, a school, a day care center and churches.
Attorneys for The Healing Way and neighbors must file briefs with Common Pleas Court in advance of oral arguments on Nov. 5 in the City Hall courtroom of Judge Idee C. Fox.
Even if The Healing Way prevails in the courts, it would need approval from the state and federal governments before opening. ••