Methadone clinic battle continues in Holmesburg

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. ••

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