Frankford Ave. methadone clinic awaits ruling

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. ••

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