Zoning OK for S.W. Philly ‘day reporting center’ overturned

Posted: June 28, 2012

A Common Pleas Court judge has overturned a zoning variance that would have allowed a controversial "day reporting center" for ex-offenders in Southwest Philadelphia.

The project was the city's first proposed reentry facility, part of a Nutter administration strategy to reduce the prison population and provide services to nonviolent offenders.

The administration envisioned 10 such centers around the city, offering job training, drug testing, counseling, and temporary housing.

But to Southwest Philadelphia residents, the center would have been an unwelcome "private prison" in their midst.

The project, proposed by two Vineland, N.J., men under the banner of Visionary Community Reentry Centers (VCRC), would have converted the former M.A.B. paint factory at 5213 Grays Ave.

Under the zoning code, the facility would have been considered a prison. Because it would have been within 500 feet of residential area, the developers needed a variance.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment first gave that permission in December 2010. Neighbors and a construction company across the street appealed.

In a decision handed down Tuesday, Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox found that the board's decision did not meet the standards for issuing a variance, which include showing "no conflict with the public interest."

"Clearly the record is replete with concerns about the effect this use will have on the community," Fox wrote.

Darwin R. Beauvais, attorney for VCRC, said he had not yet discussed a possible appeal with his clients.

The judge's decision came shortly after the unexpected death of Greg Moses, one of the lead plaintiffs and the director of a neighborhood group opposed to the facility, said lawyer Paul Boni, who represented the project's opponents.

"He's probably smiling down on Southwest Philly today," Boni said in an e-mail.

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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