Nursing home expasion still under fire

The Holme Circle Civic Association voted against the planned expansion of a 296-bed nursing home, but the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved it anyway, leaving neighbors to contemplate what, if anything, they can do to continue their fight.

Holme Circle residents assessed their options during the monthly meeting of their civic group on Sept. 28. One week earlier, the zoning board had granted a special exception to the operator of the Immaculate Mary Center allowing for a three-story addition to the existing four-story facility at 2990 Holme Ave. The home provides long-term care and subacute inpatient rehabilitation.

By law, opponents of the expansion had 30 days from the date of the ruling to appeal. That window closes on Oct. 21. During last week’s community meeting, HCCA Vice President Mike Gould recommended that the civic association allow immediate neighbors of the nursing home to take the lead on any appeal. Those neighbors have their own group known as the Winchester Park Civic Association, which has also voted in opposition to the nursing home expansion. Geographically, Winchester Park is included within the Holme Circle Civic Association’s boundaries. Many Winchester Park residents are members of both civic groups. Citizens may appeal the zoning board’s ruling individually by filing with Common Pleas Court within the same 30-day window.

The expansion plan approved by the zoning board was not the same plan shown by Immaculate Mary Center officials to neighbors during a joint meeting of the civic associations in May, Gould said. New York-based Center Management Group operates the site through its Catholic Health Group division.

Under the original proposal, the addition was meant to be four full floors topped by an enclosure for HVAC units and other utilities. The dimensions of that plan would have required Center Management to obtain a zoning variance. The dimensions of the amended, three-story plan conformed with the city’s zoning code, so no variance was required. Yet, under the code, Center Management needed a special exception to extend the existing use of the facility. The distinction between a special exception and a variance is key. To obtain a variance, the applicant must essentially demonstrate to the zoning board that its proposal would likely not harm the community. In the case of a special exception application, the burden is on opponents to show the board that the proposal would likely harm the community.

Although both civic groups informed the zoning board of their opposition and individual residents testified against the expansion, the zoning board did not rule in their favor. According to Gould, five zoning board members voted unanimously to grant the special exception.

Center Management is the same company that plans to expand the 226-bed St. John Neumann Center in Somerton, which provides similar services to the Immaculate Mary Center. The zoning board granted a special exception for the Neumann Center expansion on Sept. 14. Construction is scheduled to start next spring.

In other Holme Circle Civic Association business:

• Gregory Waldman of the City Planning Commission invited residents to get involved in a new long-term planning project for the Far Northeast. The project is part of Philadelphia2035 and is focused on assessing physical conditions and potential improvements for the area. The first of three public meetings was held last month at St. John Neumann Center. The second meeting will be in November. A date has not been announced. Visit Phila2035.org for information.

• HCCA board member Kristin Moore reported that an effort to rehabilitate McArdle Playground next to Pollock Elementary School is underway. City Councilman Bobby Henon is coordinating a design review meeting involving the Department of Parks and Recreation and neighbors, Moore said.

• The civic association will host a forum for political candidates on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at St. Jerome’s School hall. Candidates who will be on the ballot for November’s general election are invited to speak. The forum is open to the public and free to attend. ••