Both sides of the controversial methadone clinic planned for Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street now await a ruling from Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox.
Fox last week heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the clinic operator and neighbors who oppose the facility.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge said she’d hold the matter under advisement. She did not give a timetable for her ruling.
The Healing Way wants to open a methadone clinic in a first-floor tenant space at 7900-04 Frankford Ave. The city Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a use permit in January 2011, and THW obtained building permits for interior alterations of the 4,830-square-foot property.
Several months later, when neighbors learned of the plans, they mobilized against the clinic.
Neighbors appealed L&I’s issuance of the permit, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment heard the case on Aug. 31, 2011.
The ZBA did not issue a ruling until March 13 of this year. The board determined by a 4-1 vote that a methadone clinic — unlike a medical office, hospital or medical center — is not a permitted use of a property that is zoned C-2.
The Healing Way appealed that ruling to Common Pleas Court.
Methadone is used to wean people off drugs and is usually administered in liquid form.
The property that THW wants to use has been vacant since 2008, when the Last Call bar closed after a shooting outside the establishment. The clinic would operate daily from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would serve about 200 patients per day.
In general, neighbors oppose the clinic because of its proximity to houses, a school, a day-care center and churches.
About three-dozen people attended the hearing in opposition to the clinic. City Councilman Bobby Henon and the Holmesburg and Mayfair civic associations arranged for a bus to transport them to Center City. They were picked up and dropped off outside the proposed clinic.
Attorney Carl Primavera seemed to give a strong argument for the clinic, especially considering city lawyer Andrew Ross sided with him.
Ross said he was sympathetic and understanding of the neighbors’ concerns, but he told the judge that the zoning board used “flawed” reasoning, and that its ruling should be set aside.
“We think the zoning board got it wrong in this case,” he said.
However, Primavera seemed to have a strong case during the ZBA hearing, as L&I official Jeanne Klinger testified that C-2 zoning would allow a clinic, and that she would issue the permit again.
Still, the ZBA ruled that the clinic is not a permitted use. Primavera, who questioned why the zoning board took more than six months to rule, pointed out that the ZBA’s sole lawyer — Peter Gonzales — voted to deny the appeal.
Among those in attendance at the Dec. 5 hearing were Councilmen Henon and David Oh, state Rep. Kevin Boyle, civic association presidents Joe DeFelice (Mayfair), Rich Frizell (Holmesburg), Elsie Stevens (Holme Circle) and Mary Benussi (Tacony) and an aide to state Rep. Mike McGeehan.
Henon said afterward that he’ll look at clarifying the new zoning code as it relates to methadone clinics. For now, he sees a gray area.
“The government should always side with the people,” he said about such close calls.
Primavera said The Healing Way has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into renovations since leasing the space last year.
The lawyer’s argument is that a methadone clinic is a medical office, and that his client did not have to specify a use in its application.
“Health care is health care,” he said.
Primavera likened it to applying to open a restaurant.
“I don’t have to put down ‘Italian.’ I don’t have to put down ‘Greek.’ A restaurant is a restaurant. The same thing with medical offices,” he said.
Primavera also asked Fox to pay close attention to Klinger’s testimony in front of the ZBA, where she indicated that a clinic would be allowed under C-2, even after aggressive and creative cross-examination.
“Her testimony was clear,” he said.
Primavera called the opening of the clinic “long overdue.” One-hundred people already have been identified as potential patients.
“We have people who are waiting for treatment,” he said.
Attorneys Dawn Tancredi and Phil McFillin represented the neighbors.
Tancredi stressed that the clinic should not be allowed in C-2.
“A medical office is different from a clinic,” she said.
McFillin noted that the clinic’s failure to state its actual use on its application is important, arguing that there is a big difference between administering drugs and prescribing them.
In addition, he believes up to 400 or 500 people could visit the clinic each day, and that there is not enough parking in the area to accommodate them.
McFillin dismissed Primavera’s focus on federal law and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We believe those are distractions from the main issue,” he said.
The Healing Way’s bid to open a methadone clinic is not connected to an effort by NorthEast Treatment Centers to open a similar clinic at 7520 State Road. The Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear that case on Jan. 23. ••