Sixteen members of City Council voted on Thursday to override a mayoral veto of a bill that will restrict the development of new medical offices in Northeast Philadelphia’s 6th and 10th Councilmanic Districts. The bill, sponsored by Councilmen Brian O’Neill and Bobby Henon, had passed unanimously last month.
“This bill effectively bans the establishment or expansion of medical, dental, or other health practices in these districts,” wrote Nutter, in his message to Council. “... At a time when access to healthcare should be expanding for all Americans, this Bill carves out two Councilmanic districts where that evolution toward a better, healthier society will face an undue hurdle in the form of zoning rules that are exclusionary in nature.”
Nutter’s veto was overridden with no debate. Councilman Bill Green was the only member of Council to change his original opinion and vote against the override. He said after the meeting that recent debate over zoning changes in Southwest Philadelphia had focused his thinking on the importance of sticking to citywide zoning regulations whenever possible.
Though O’Neill and Henon have never said publicly that the bill was intended to restrict methadone clinics specifically, that has been the general understanding. And Green says he is on board with that.
“On a policy-wide basis, that [use] should probably not be allowed as a by-right use anywhere,” Green said. “It should require a special exception.”
At the same time that Council was affirming Henon and O’Neill’s prerogative to change zoning policies in the Northeast, Councilman Mark Squilla was introducing his own version of the bill. Squilla’s bill would create a First Councilmanic District overlay, the sole function of which would be to ban new medical offices in all but the least restrictive zoning category—I-3, heavy industrial.
“It won’t be as of right any longer, so therefore they would need to get a variance in order to get approval to be there,” Squilla said, after the hearing. “…Same bill, different district.”
If Squilla’s bill passes, medical offices in Northeast Philadelphia and parts of South Philadelphia and the River Wards will need to get approvals from the zoning board before opening. The bill will have to be heard in committee before it goes up for a vote, likely sometime early next year.
Jared Brey writes about development, zoning policy, and city government for PlanPhilly.com. He wasn't interested in being a reporter until halfway through a master's program in journalism at Temple University that he intended to parlay into an academic career. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, City Paper, Business Journal, and Metropolis.