Zoning hearing begins for methadone clinic
Back in February 2009, some 1,500 people turned out at Anne Frank Elementary School in Bustleton to oppose a planned methadone clinic at Grant Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard.
NorthEast Treatment Centers would dispense methadone — which is used to wean people off drugs — to addicts living generally north of Cottman Avenue.
The city saw the opposition that night and withdrew its support. Dr. Donald Schwarz, commissioner of the city Department of Health, told the crowd, “We are going to go back and think about other locations.”
The new location is 7520 State Road. Last week, officials from the city and NET appeared in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment to try to win a variance to open at that location.
The opposition at the Jan. 23 hearing was led by Holmesburg Civic Association president Rich Frizell, Mayfair Civic Association president Joe DeFelice and neighbors.
Just four witnesses testified during the two-hour hearing, which was continued until March 6. Roughly 20 other witnesses are scheduled to testify. The case seems destined to land in appeals courts.
“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” said lawyer Dan McCaffery, representing the opponents. Lawyer Michael Yanoff also represents residents and business owners opposed to the clinic.
Lawyer Steve Pollock represents NET.
The ZBA is made up of five members: chairwoman Lynette Brown-Sow, Carol Tinari, Sam Staten, Greg Pastore and Marty Bednarek, a banker from Lexington Park.
Last March, the ZBA voted 4-1 to revoke a permit issued to The Healing Way, which is seeking to open a methadone clinic at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street. Brown-Sow, Tinari and Staten voted in the majority. Pastore and Bednarek were not on the board at the time.
The NET proposal is unrelated to the bid by The Healing Way, which is opposed by the same coalition of folks in Holmesburg and Mayfair. That case remains in the courts.
NET’s other sites include one at 2205 Bridge St. The agency presented letters vouching for its operation from state Rep. John Taylor, American Heritage Federal Credit Union and Maritime Academy Charter School.
Brown-Sow said she has received letters of opposition from City Councilman Bobby Henon, state Sen. Mike Stack, the Holmesburg and Upper Holmesburg civic associations and New Foundations Charter School. Aides to Henon and Stack attended the hearing. Also, about 800 people have signed a petition in opposition.
The site is about 54,000 square feet. In his letter, Frizell notes the presence of nearby prisons on State Road. He wrote, “A further institutionalization of State Road runs counterpoint to our vision.”
Pollock’s four witnesses were Arthur Evans, commissioner of the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services; Roland Lamb, director of the city’s Office of Addiction Services; Terrence McSherry, the longtime president and CEO of NorthEast Treatment Centers; and John Carroll, director of the center’s NET Steps program.
Evans explained that the city accepted NET’s bid to provide services to residents of the 19111, 19114, 19115, 19116 and 19136 ZIP codes. He called NET a “very strong provider” and likened its program to “a national model.”
Methadone is effective treatment, Evans said, dismissing claims that dispensing centers are magnets for druggies.
“There’s no evidence of that,” he said.
McSherry said NET has developed a good reputation in the 32 years he has been at the helm. The agency is seeking to consolidate two lots — one at 7520 State Road, the other at 7550 — into one, partially by demolishing a building.
About 100 people would be on staff. Methadone would be dispensed seven days a week from about 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Up to 350 people would receive methadone per day. Children of patients would have a play area. There would be no overnight stays.
In all, there would be 153 parking spaces. Parking would be on the side of the building, with some spots in the back.
McSherry said the site is easily accessible by public transportation but far enough away from homes to avoid directly impacting residents.
The methadone would be dispensed in liquid form. Patients would not be given pills to take off premises.
McSherry said methadone will help Northeast addicts kick the habit.
“It’s needed, and we want to be able to provide it,” he said.
Carroll said licensed nurses dispense the medicine. A select number of patients might receive an injection of Vivitrol, which lasts for 30 days and blocks an opiate’s euphoric effects.
Patients also receive counseling and are tested for drug use during the program. NET also likes to see individuals receive family support on their way to sobriety.
As for security, there would be video cameras and guards.
Carroll said patients fill out a 24-page application. Court-ordered addicts are not accepted. If patients skip a day, staff will call them.
“We’re looking for people who really want to change their lives,” he said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com