Neighbors say ‘NO!’ to methadone clinic
Tenants are mum about Healing Way facility, but they have applied to Harrisburg for a permit to dispense methadone.
Nobody, it seems, wants the agency Healing Way to open a methadone clinic at 7900-04 Frankford Ave., not even the building owner who is leasing space.
About 250 people rallied against the proposed clinic on July 19.
A day later, state Reps. Kevin Boyle and Mike McGeehan and an aide to state Sen. Mike Stack met in Boyle’s Harrisburg office with representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
On this past Tuesday night, after the Times went to press with this week’s issue, a community meeting was scheduled to be held at Abraham Lincoln High School.
Meanwhile, building owner Dennis Kulp — the longtime broker/owner of RE/MAX Eastern — insisted he did not know that Healing Way planned to open the clinic, which would dispense a powerful liquid dose of methadone to wean people off drugs.
“I had no clue that was their intention. I certainly wouldn’t put a business like that in my building,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to break the lease, but it’s a difficult thing to do.”
Kulp has offered to give Healing Way a refund.
“I told them to give me a number,” he said.
The Realtor has not received a response. He would not disclose the monthly rent on the 4,830-square-foot site. An estimated $100,000 in renovations has been made to the interior.
Kulp said he was approached in January by people interested in opening a medical facility. He didn’t ask for specifics on the use, explaining that he was just happy to have a tenant for a site that has been vacant since the Last Call bar closed in 2008, following a shooting outside the establishment.
The businessman added that the operators didn’t offer any information on their plans.
ZONING PERMITS CLINIC
The property is zoned C-2, which allows a methadone clinic, as long as there are no overnight stays.
A month or so ago, a Decatur Street neighbor contacted the office of City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski (D-6th dist.) about the proposal. The city Department of Licenses and Inspections had issued permits on Jan. 11, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that Healing Way applied to the state’s health department for approval of a methadone clinic.
“That’s when I became aware of it,” said Kulp, whose office windows featured signs promoting the community meeting at Lincoln.
The existing property includes the RE/MAX office, which has been there since 1979. The offices for the North Star Electric Supply Co. are on Decatur Street. There are 11 apartments on the second floor of the building.
Kulp labeled as “ludicrous” any suggestion that apartment leases are not being renewed to create more room for the clinic.
Not all neighbors are buying it.
A flier promoting the Lincoln meeting screams, “Is RE/MAX ruining our neighborhoods? Tell RE/MAX to knock it off!!!” A woman carried a sign that read, “Owner Dennis Kulp, break the lease. Don’t turn our neighborhood into a slum.”
As for the planned operators, they are remaining quiet. Their King of Prussia lawyer isn’t talking either.
The entrepreneurs are said to be two married Bucks County couples, one living in Richboro and the other in Feasterville. They apparently own a gold store in Center City.
The clinic opening is not imminent. A state health department spokeswoman explained that the operators would have to contact two federal agencies, followed by an on-site inspection.
In addition, Krajewski has arranged an Aug. 31 hearing in front of the city Zoning Board of Adjustment to at least get Healing Way on the record with its plans.
THEY’RE UNITED IN PROTEST
Neighbors opposing a methadone clinic cite its proximity to nearby schools, churches and child-care centers.
“We don’t want drug dealers in our neighborhood,” said Aldine Street resident Milt Martelack.
At the July 19 protest, Martelack stood in the bed of a parked pickup truck and led the crowd in chants of “Say no to methadone” and “Just say no.”
Martelack is a member of the Tacony/Holmesburg/Upper Mayfair Town Watch. His fears include everything from clients urinating on buildings to sleeping in bushes to robbing local businesses to going “ballistic.”
“Statistics prove that these people are unstable,” he said.
Boyle, the state lawmaker whose district includes the proposed site, faulted Healing Way for failing to meet with community groups and elected officials. Also, he noted the lack of on-site parking at the facility, suggesting that could be in violation of C-2 zoning.
“I can’t think of a worse location for a narcotics treatment facility,” he said.
The Mayfair and Holmesburg civic associations, headed by presidents Joe DeFelice and Fred Moore, are leading the opposition. They’ve received support from Krajewski, Boyle, McGeehan, Stack and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
City Council candidates Joe McColgan, Bobby Henon and Sandra Stewart attended the protest rally.
The public officials criticized Healing Way for what they see as a lack of transparency.
“They tried to do a secret deal and put it in our back yard,” said Henon, who faces Stewart in November’s elections for the right to replace the retiring Krajewski.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, told the crowd that the average response time in the busy and expansive 15th Police District for a non-priority crime is two to three hours.
“You put a clinic here, you’re going to wait a lot longer,” he said.
THERE GOES NEIGHBORHOOD?
The Morrell Park Civic Association and Town Watch and the Greater Bustleton Civic League have also weighed in against the clinic. Hundreds of people signed petitions at the protest and the next night at the Pennypack Park Music Festival.
Even Winnie the Pooh showed up at the protest with a sign that read, “Keep Your Junkie Pooh Away From Our Kids!”
Michael Kaplan is the owner of Kaplan’s furniture store, which has been on the 7900 block of Frankford Ave. since 1960.
He views the neighborhood as a good place to live and raise children, but he can foresee a major change in quality of life as clients arrive at the clinic on public transportation, he said.
“It puts everyone who takes the 66 bus in harm’s way,” said Kaplan, who e-mailed his objections to Mayor Michael Nutter.
Linda Lewis, administrator of the Holmesburg Baptist Christian Academy, suggested that the clinic be placed in one of the city prisons along State Road.
Two-hundred students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade attend her school.
“We have children who stand on this corner waiting for the 66,” she said.
Jill Farina, a 13-year-old from Chippendale Street, said the clinic will have a negative impact on the neighborhood.
“If we have this methadone clinic, I don’t know if I’ll feel too safe in my own neighborhood,” she said.
Dan Reilly, of Rhawn Street, is calling for neighbors to pack next month’s zoning board hearing.
He doesn’t want to see clients lined up outside the clinic all day.
“We have schools galore around here. Lincoln High School is right up the street,” he said.
“It would change everything.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org