Court reverses zoning decision, permits methadone clinic

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. ••

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