by Lou Mancinelli

The site of the proposed Fresenius dialysis center has become home to a number of porta-potties in recent weeks.

Members of City Council’s Rules Committee voted unanimously today to recommend a change in zoning from industrial to C-2 commercial at 10 E. Moreland Ave., further paving the way for a proposed and controversial Fresenius dialysis center to open its doors.

City Council Bill 100753, introduced by Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller on Nov. 4 and recommended by the city’s Planning Commission on Nov. 15, would enable the dialysis center to open by-right.  The bill now moves to the entire council for a vote.

Earlier this year, Fresenius requested a zoning variance because the industrial zoning did not allow for a medical office. The Chestnut Hill Community Association supported that variance, but neighbors opposed to the variance without a proviso limiting hours of operation asked the ZBA for relief. They received it in the form of a proviso prohibiting the facility from keeping its doors open past 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Later, Fresenius asked the ZBA to reconsider the restriction, and the ZBA reversed course – without a hearing – removing the proviso and prompting neighbors to file an appeal to reverse the ZBA’s reversal on the grounds that the ZBA did not have the right to change its mind without a hearing.

That issue was brought forward at a contested hearing of the City Council Rules Committee this morning at City Hall.

“We feel like our due process has been taken away,” said Moreland Avenue resident Peter Burke, who with his wife filed the appeal on behalf of neighbors—more than 70 signed a petition to restrict the zoning change.

Burke and two of his neighbors were at today’s hearing and testified against the possible zoning change, claiming the bill circumvented the judicial process. The neighbors said CHCA decisions the past 10 years have come to reflect the interests of businesses and institutions as opposed to the residents whose interests ought to be the most protected.

“Everyone of these meetings was published,” said CHCA President Walter Sullivan early in the hearing. “We want the public to come to community meetings if they are for it or against it, or if they have questions. …We have to call it as we see it. Our committees concluded [this project] was in the best interest of Chestnut Hill.”

Beyond that, the sticking point between neighbors and the Dialysis center remained the nine hours a week — from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays — that neighbors had hoped to keep the center closed. Some had expressed fear that the center could conceivably stay open 24 hours a day if no restrictions were placed on the center. See Letters this week.

Burke claimed Dr. Edward Jones, a medical director for Fresenius told residents at previous community planning meetings that for 30 years the company operated from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

When Dr. Jones later explained patients arrive at scattered times throughout the day, the last and third shift beginning at 4 p.m., neighbors opposed the hours.

“Trying to provide care for those who need dialysis is a local problem,” said Jones. “You shouldn’t have to travel far to get aid. Some people need evening hours because they work and have kids. I don’t want a citizen of Northwest Philadelphia to have kidney failure and have to tell them to go somewhere else.”

“They told us they never had third shifts, and that’s a problem,” said Burke. “I’m opposed to the decisions by the zoning board to remove the proviso.”

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Fresenius attorney Carl Primavera went on record to explain why his client entered into a written agreement with the Chestnut Hill Community Association and is willing to sign any agreement with the community that says the center would not operate later than 9 p.m.

“We have no interest to go beyond 9:00 at night,” he said. “We are legally bound to it.”

“When you get past all that,” said Councilman Greenlee. “I just don’t understand why three hours matters, whether it’s Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.”

Greenlee’s question fell in line with those of other council members who asked about traffic, the building’s design, lighting and parking lot, all issues that proved to be noncontroversial with neighbors.

Council Chairwomen Anna Verna addressed emails committee members received that claimed the bill was spot-zoning and said spot-zoning, is when one property is changed to something inconsistent with the zoning in the neighborhood. That is not the case in this situation, she said. By changing E. 10 Moreland from industrial to C-2, the property becomes more in line with the current businesses and zoning restrictions in the neighborhood.

Representatives from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and the city’s planning commission also provided testimony in favor of the bill.

Ron Recko of the Chestnut Hill Residents Association expressed his dismay with the rules committee.

“This is only round two,” he said. “The problem is that this went before the zoning board and the zoning board voted unanimously to limit hours. All we’re talking about is taking away nine hours. So for nine hours, Fresenius called the zoning board to get them to remove the consideration.”

Given the fact that there now exists an agreement to close at 9 p.m., the neighbors’ (who until it was announced at the hearing said they were unaware of any such agreement) appeal is one step closer to becoming moot if the council approves the zoning change, which it seems poised to do

“We were not aware until we heard from [Primavera] today that there was an agreement reached for no 24-7 work,” Recko said. “If that’s so, and the neighbors are happy, that’s fine with the CHRA.

Still, Recko said he was not happy with the way Council came to the rescue of Fresenius in spite of ample residential opposition.

“These people have to realize that they are elected and if they are not going to take care of the residents, the residents are not going to take care of them come reelection time,” he said.

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