Holmesburg Civic Association opposes methadone clinic variance

When the Holmesburg Civic Association convened Nov. 13 for its monthly meeting, the topic at hand was a familiar and controversial one – a proposed methadone clinic at 7520 State Rd.

NorthEast Treatment Centers, which would operate the clinic, needs a zoning variance because the site is currently approved for industrial use. The membership was there to vote on that issue.

HCA President Rich Frizell said he understands there is a drug problem in the area, but said he disagrees with the NET method of treating that problem.

“There are drugs in Northeast Philadelphia. There are drugs in Holmesburg. No, my head’s not in the sand,” Frizell said. “We do need these facilities, but I don’t think we need a 60,000 square-foot facility in Holmesburg.”

It is not just the size of the facility that bothers Frizell.

“They don’t wean you off of drugs,” he said. “Their philosophy is, you’re on methadone, then you’re on methadone for the rest of your life.”

Nearby businesses are concerned, too. Fluke’s Restaurant and Pub is nearby, and Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse is next-door.

“We are opposed to it,” said Debra Betten, part owner of Sweet Lucy’s. “This is a business that caters to families. We fear it will affect the comfort level of our customers.” The owners have obtained a lawyer.

Multiple attempts to reach NET were unsuccessful.

The membership voted 18-1 against the variance. The issue will be heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Nov. 28.

The HCA continues to fight The Healing Way, operators of a proposed methadone clinic on the 7900-block of Frankford Avenue. Civic groups from across the Northeast have been fighting that plan for more than a year.

“At this point both sides have submitted briefs,” said Dawn Tancredi, a lawyer for the HCA. “Oral arguments are scheduled for Dec. 5.”

The disagreement between the two sides relates to the zoning. Unlike the State Road. location, the Frankford Avenue location is zoned for commercial use, specifically C2, which is labeled “Mixed-Use Commercial” by the Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission.

“[The Healing Way] claims that they can present that the methadone clinic is allowed in C2 by right,” Tancredi said. “Our response is that the methadone clinic is not allowed by right in C2.”

 The Zoning Commission’s website lists use-restrictions for C2 as: “Sales shall be at retail; dealing directly with consumer.”

According to Tancredi, once the judge decides, the losing side will likely appeal and that process could take from six months to a year.

With both locations, residents are concerned about the potential for drug dealers to set up shop near the clinics.

“Just like Parkside,” Frizell said, referring to the clinic in West Philadelphia. “They did a hidden camera thing there.” NBC10 covered that story in 2009.

Holmesburg resident Milt Martelack said he feels the methadone treatment philosophy is a disaster, calling it a “Band-Aid to addiction.” The former Mayfair Town Watch president led a rally against the clinic proposed on Frankford Avenue.

He said he is concerned that the size of the facility will lead to a large number of people being treated.

“We’re talking 800 people a day,” Martelack said. “We are coming out against this. And we’re not shy about it.”

Bob Stewart is a journalism major at Temple University. Previously he was at Community College of Philadelphia and was the editor-in-chief of the school paper. He won several Keystone Press and Society of Professional Journalists awards. He has also freelanced for the Northeast Times. He lives in Bustleton with his wife, two children and orange tabby cat.

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