Methadone clinic foes vow to keep fighting

A heated debate: About 300 people attended the July 16 meeting at Abraham Lincoln High School. BRAD LARRISON / FOR THE TIMES

Opponents of a proposed methadone clinic at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street last week took aim at the clinic’s owners, the man leasing them the property and the judge who OK’d the business.

About 300 people gathered in the Abraham Lincoln High School auditorium on July 16 to protest The Healing Way’s quest to open a clinic in a first-floor tenant space at 7900–04 Frankford Ave.

The meeting followed a June 19 ruling by Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox that sustained an appeal of a Zoning Board of Adjustment decision, enabling THW to open a clinic, so long as it can obtain permits from the state health department.

Attorneys Dawn Tancredi and Phil McFillin, who represent neighbors opposed to the clinic, will be appealing to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The appeals process could cost up to $30,000, and clinic opponents are raising money so the Mattioni law firm can stay on the case. They are asking $10 per household.

The clinic is opposed by the Holmesburg, Mayfair, Holme Circle, Tacony and Winchester Park civic associations; the Mayfair Business Association; the Mayfair Community Development Corporation; and the Mayfair and Tacony/Holmesburg Town Watch groups.

Joe DeFelice, an attorney and president of the Mayfair Civic Association and chairman of the Mayfair CDC, explained that lawyers for both sides will file legal briefs and make arguments in front of Commonwealth Court. He expects the case to last six months to a year.

DeFelice said opponents are not against drug treatment.

“We’re against treatment at this location,” he said.

Neighbors opposed to the clinic worry about loitering, a decrease in property values, an increase in traffic, a lack of parking and a negative impact on existing businesses.

In addition, they point to the clinic’s proximity to day care centers, schools, dance studios and churches.

The facility would dispense methadone, which is used to wean addicts off drugs. It is usually administered in liquid form. The clinic would operate daily from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would serve about 200 patients per day.

The site is not related to another proposed methadone clinic in the area. In April, the ZBA approved a bid by NorthEast Treatment Centers to open a clinic at 7520 State Road. The Mayfair and Holmesburg civic associations and some State Road businesses oppose the facility. An attorney is appealing the zoning board’s decision to Common Pleas Court.

Rich Frizell, president of Holmesburg Civic Association, said it’s not fair for the community to be home to two methadone clinics and the prison complex on State Road. Frizell also believes The Healing Way owners, who include Alan and Michelle Yanovsky, are too inexperienced in the field because their primary business is not in medicine but as owners of Three Gold Brothers, located at 711 Sansom St. on Jewelers Row.

“They trade cash for gold down on Sansom Street,” he said.

The Healing Way signed a five-year lease in 2011, and the agency has spent a lot of money on rent, renovations and lawyers.

“They’re not going to go away,” DeFelice said.

Elected officials at the meeting were City Councilmen Bobby Henon and Denny O’Brien, state Sen. Mike Stack and state Reps. Kevin Boyle, Mike McGeehan, Brendan Boyle and John Taylor. An aide to U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz also was in attendance.

They vowed to stick by clinic opponents until a final resolution.

After Stack asked, “Will you be worn down?” the crowd roared, “No!”

Kevin Boyle said the methadone clinic would contribute to a decline in the quality of life the way other drug rehabs have harmed neighborhoods in the Lower Northeast.

“We’re going to keep this clinic out of Holmesburg and Mayfair,” he said.

McGeehan said his family has lived in the area for 85 years, and he hopes the widespread opposition to the clinic will help keep it from opening. He also blasted Fox, who was elected in 1995 and retained in 2005. She’s scheduled for another retention vote in 2015.

“There better not be a yes vote for Idee Fox when she comes up for retention,” McGeehan said.

Brendan Boyle argued that methadone has caused deaths and that its long-term effects are unknown. He called the clinic “a bad idea in a terrible location.”

Taylor and Kevin Boyle have lobbied Gov. Tom Corbett and the state health department to refuse to issue permits to The Healing Way until appeals have been exhausted.

Taylor is also calling for a big turnout at the next court hearing.

“We should all be there in Commonwealth Court,” he said.

O’Brien said times have changed, and that solid community opposition doesn’t necessarily keep an undesirable tenant from opening. He recalled former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo appearing at meetings and telling folks, “You’re not going to have anything in your neighborhood that you don’t want.”

In a question-and-answer session, some neighbors faulted Dennis Kulp, owner/broker at RE/MAX Eastern, which is located in the same building as the proposed clinic. Kulp did not return a phone call made by the Times on July 17.

Kulp has claimed in the past that he did not know The Healing Way would be opening a methadone clinic when he leased the space.

“He’s full of s — -,” one man said.

Kulp’s home address and phone number were posted on an exit door for people to copy down before leaving.

The fight over the clinic dates to January 2011, when the city Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a use permit for the Frankford Avenue site, and THW obtained building permits for interior alterations of the 4,830-square-foot property.

Neighbors appealed L&I’s issuance of the permit.

The zoning board heard the appeals in August 2011, then ruled in March 2012 in 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.

In her written opinion, Fox determined that a methadone clinic is a permitted use of a C-2 property, and that the zoning board was wrong in its ruling.

The Healing Way wants to move into a property that has been vacant since 2008. The Last Call closed that year after a shooting outside the bar. ••

A heated debate: About 300 people attended the July 16 meeting at Abraham Lincoln High School. BRAD LARRISON / FOR THE TIMES

A heated debate: Sixth District City Councilman Bobby Henon makes remarks at a meeting to discuss a proposed methadone clinic in Holmesburg. About 300 people attended the July 16 meeting at Abraham Lincoln High School. BRAD LARRISON / FOR THE TIMES