A methadone clinic is one big step closer to opening at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street in Holmesburg.
Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox has sustained an appeal of a Zoning Board of Adjustment decision, enabling The Healing Way to open a clinic, assuming it can obtain permits from the state Department of Health.
Opponents of the clinic have not given up on preventing it from opening.
“We are going to file an appeal,” said attorney Dawn Tancredi, who represents neighbors opposed to the clinic.
Carl Primavera, an attorney representing The Healing Way, said his clients are looking forward to opening the clinic. Methadone is used to wean people off drugs and is usually administered in liquid form.
“Hopefully, it won’t be long before it’s up and running,” he said.
The Healing Way wants to open a 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.
Neighbors did not learn of THW’s specific plans until several months later, and they appealed L&I’s issuance of the permit.
The zoning board heard the appeal in August 2011, but did not issue a ruling until March 2012. 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, and Fox heard arguments in December 2012. A city lawyer sided with THW at the hearing.
Fox issued her written opinion on June 19, but clinic opponents — who include the Mayfair, Holmesburg, Holme Circle and Tacony civic associations — did not learn of the decision until Monday.
The judge determined that a methadone clinic is a permitted use of a C-2 property. She wrote, “While L&I was not aware of THW’s plan to create a methadone clinic at the Frankford property at the time of the permit application, an L&I employee (Jeanne Klinger) testified she still would have issued the permit as of right because a methadone clinic would classify as a medical office. The ZBA’s conclusion that it does not is an error of law.”
Fox’s opinion noted the neighborhood opposition to the clinic.
“Although this court might sympathize with the concerns of the surrounding community, we are bound to follow the existing law of this City and Commonwealth. This permit was properly issued ‘over-the-counter’ by L&I and the ZBA improperly reversed that decision,” she wrote.
Patti Vaughn, a Decatur Street resident who first alerted public officials and civic leaders of THW’s plan, fears a drop in property values. She also believes people will stop patronizing longtime upstanding businesses — including a bakery, barber shop and furniture store — to avoid methadone patients hanging outside the clinic.
“I see it as a devastating blow to the neighborhood,” she said.
State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-172nd dist.) issued a statement saying he is “deeply troubled” by the court decision. He dismissed THW officials as “profiteers,” adding that they lack the credentials to open a methadone clinic.
“The owners of this clinic, and the secretive manner in which they attempted to open it, not only shook my confidence but forced me to call into question whether their motive is to treat those in need or simply profit off of those clutched by addiction,” he said.
Boyle said he and the community will shift their focus to lobbying the state health department to deny the necessary permits.
Primavera expects to prevail.
“We always thought we were legally right,” he said. “It’s a commercial area.”
Tancredi and co-counsel Phil McFillin believe the ruling might have a wide-ranging impact on neighborhoods, since methadone clinics will be able to open in commercially zoned areas.
McFillin described it as a potential “disaster,” and urged Philadelphians to lobby City Council to amend the zoning code.
The community’s lawyers still hope to prevail in the courts.
“We think our legal position is strong,” McFillin said.
Primavera understands that opening the clinic is an emotional issue, but he thinks the place can be an asset to the community if addicts kick their drug habit.
“People who need treatment should have access to that,” he said.
The property that The Healing Way 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.
The court ruling is the second recent victory for methadone clinic operators. In April, the zoning board approved a bid by NorthEast Treatment Centers to open a clinic at 7520 State Road. The Mayfair and Holmesburg civic associations, along with some State Road businesses, oppose the facility. Attorney Frank Bennett will take the community’s appeal to Common Pleas Court. ••