Northwood Civic to launch two legal battles

Two frequent topics of consternation at recent Northwood Civic Association meetings are being taken to court.

A pair of unanimous 18-0 resident votes urged President Barry Howell and his board to go ahead with plans to request an injunction on the opening of an addiction recovery facility on Roosevelt Boulevard and to sue the Frankford Community Y to open its financial records.

“We oppose this as much as you do,” State Rep. Tony Payton, who circulated a copy of a letter he sent to the city’s chief of the Department of Behavioral Health Arthur Evans,  expressing as much to, said of the opening of a Volunteers of America of Delaware Valley home on the 4800-block of Roosevelt Boulevard. Howell, Payton and others maintain that this in direct conflict with Northwood’s deed restriction.

“I think these court proceedings will bring to light that deed restrictions trump city zoning,” Payton said. “We certainly hope that’s the case.”

While VOA provides a variety of services, addiction treatment is among them and the issue of so-called recovery homes has been an ongoing battle in Northwood and neighboring Frankford.

Howell said the facility has a contract with the city to serve as an outpatient facility with people fighting addictions. It’s a “clear violation of our deed restriction,” he said, of the decades-old addendum to city zoning code that restricts any business without an explicit variance from operating within a given geographical boundary. The unanimous vote authorized Howell to use $1,500 of the association’s funds to retain a lawyer to begin investigating how to force an injunction on VOA’s operation

“This is going to be expensive,” Howell said. “But this is why we’re here, this is what we want to fight.”

In 1963, the Northwood Civic Association did receive a requested injunction against a doctor’s plans to open an office in the restricted area, Howell said, and, while a final verdict wasn’t given until 1967, “the deed restriction held up in court.”

For a more acute response, Howell pointed to representatives of the Juniata civic group, which had organized 150 people to protest another behavioral health facility planned for their neighborhood. Its opening was canceled because of that showing, Howell said.

“We need to get together a busload of our own people,” he said.

Of course, it wasn’t the only contentious issue of the night.

After another unanimous vote from all 18 dues-paying members of the Northwood Civic Association, Howell pledged to file paperwork by the week’s end with the city’s Court of Common Pleas, hoping to force open the financial records of the neighborhood staple Frankford Community Y. The request is for a financial audit of at least the organization’s last three fiscal years, he said.

It’s there, Howell says, that through a process in orphans court that the civic would be able to determine if manager Terry Tobin and his board of directors had mismanaged the rec center’s finances ahead of its proposed — but for now stalled — sale to a for-profit venture.

“This is the only way we’re going to find out what’s going on,” he said.

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