ZONING LAW UPDATE: Commonwealth Court Rules that a “Methadone Clinic” is a type of “Medical Center” as Defined by the Philadelphia Zoning Code

On March 6, 2014, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a binding decision in THW Group, LLC v. ZBA and City of Philadelphia, __ A.3d __ (Pa.Cmwlth.2014), which construed the term “Hospital/Medical Center” as defined in Section 14-102(62) of the Philadelphia Zoning Code to include methadone clinics. 

In the THW case, a developer sought a zoning permit to allow for operation of a methadone clinic in the first floor of a two-story structure on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia.  The property lies in a C-2 Commercial District, which authorizes operation of hospitals and medical centers as a by-right use.  Five neighbors of the proposed clinic opposed the issuance of the permit on the grounds that a “methadone clinic” is fundamentally different from other “medical centers” and therefore isn’t a permitted use in the C-2 District. 

The Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the permit, stating that a methadone clinic is not a Hospital/Medical Clinic under the Code and thus not permitted in the district.  The developer appealed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which reversed the Zoning Board’s decision.  On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, reasoning that under ordinary usage, the term “Medical Center” includes methadone clinics.  Of note, the Commonwealth Court relied on its previous decision in Freedom Healthcare Servs., Inc. v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of City of New Castle, 983 A.2d 1286, 1292 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009), which held that treating methadone clinics differently than other medical clinics violates the anti-discrimination dictates of the ADA. 

Please contact the attorneys at Orphanides & Toner, LLP, for more information of how to interpret and apply the permissible use provisions of the Philadelphia Zoning Code.