Bill to limit methadone clinics also hits doctors

AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER City Councilman Bobby Henon says the bill "gives the community an opportunity to weigh in on" changes to the area.
AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER City Councilman Bobby Henon says the bill "gives the community an opportunity to weigh in on" changes to the area.
Posted: November 22, 2013

IS CITY COUNCIL putting NIMBYism on steroids to stop methadone clinics from popping up in the Northeast?

Critics of a bill, which is expected to be approved today, say it's a case of the Not In My Back Yard attitude gone awry. But for Councilmen Bobby Henon and Brian O'Neill, who are backing the bill, it's a way to give their constituents a voice.

The measure would require all new medical and dental offices in their districts to get a zoning variance, rather than opening "by right," in city-planning parlance.

Henon, who represents Port Richmond, Bridesburg and Tacony, said the extra step will allow neighbors to have a say.

"It gives the community an opportunity to weigh in on what end use is going to take place in their neighborhood," he said. "I have a vision, a long-term vision, to try and revitalize a walkable foot-traffic kind of corridor."

Two proposed methadone clinics have been the subject of legal wrangling for years in Henon's district, including one on Frankford Avenue.

But some of the bill's critics, who include associations of Philadelphia doctors and dentists and the City Planning Commission, say it goes too far.

"There's a certain type of clinic that they're trying to restrict by using this broad brush," said Mark Austerberry, executive director of the Philadelphia County Medical Society. "Don't you want a doctor or a dentist in your back yard?"

Legal fees associated with applying for variances can cost thousands of dollars, which Austerberry said could be too steep for some doctors. "We're talking small practices - it's going to be an additional cost and burden on them," he said.

After little discussion, the City Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended disapproval of the measure. A staffer presenting the bill to the board said it appeared to be aimed at halting methadone clinics.

Pressed on whether that was the bill's intention, Henon was unspecific. "I want to make sure that we have increased foot traffic, that we have stores, we have local businesses, eateries, places where people can walk and feel safe," he said.

A staffer for O'Neill, who represents most of the Far Northeast, did not return a request for comment.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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