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Lots of talk, but no vote on juvenile center in Frankford

By John Loftus

Times Staff Writer

Members of the Frankford Civic Association did not vote last Thursday to support or oppose a plan to build a center for troubled teens on the 1100 block of Adams Ave., but they talked about it — at length and with no shortage of passion.

Michael Ogden, program director for The Bridge, a program that aids juveniles with mental-health and substance-abuse problems, said the organization wants to build a facility on nine leased acres on Adams Avenue.

The program currently has a residential center for 38 teenage boys in space leased for more than 40 years from the Medical Mission Sisters on the 8400 block of Pine Road in Fox Chase. The Bridge is looking for a new home because the nuns want to expand their residences on the property.

Ogden told members of the Frankford board that he realized that they might not back the proposal, but he quickly made a pitch very similar to one made more than a month ago before the Northwood Civic Association. A few boys who are residents at The Bridge talked about how the program had improved their outlooks and their family relationships.

The proposed site is on land with industrial zoning. A zoning change is required before The Bridge may build.

The Northwood civic group recently backed The Bridge's proposal, and the civic organization's president, Barry Howell, attended the Frankford meeting on April 7 at Aria Health's Frankford campus claiming that the 1101 Adams Ave. site is within Northwood's borders, not Frankford's.

"I don't believe we are overstepping our boundaries," Howell said, and he brought a map that he said showed that the property was just within Northwood.

On Friday, Frankford's zoning officer, Pete Specos, said he believes the property opens onto Frankford.

Brian Wisniewski, president of the Frankford Civic Association, clearly was opposed.

He said the neighborhood already has too many drug rehabilitation facilities or housing for recovering addicts. He maintained those places hurt area home values and discouraged investment in Frankford.

He said Frankford "has become a dumping ground for the recovery industry."

He also said the facility at which The Bridge proposes to help teens with drug and alcohol problems would be within a few blocks of corners notorious for drug sales.

"Whatever you want, you can get three blocks away," he said.

Ogden said The Bridge was neither a halfway house nor a recovery house.

Wisniewski also said he was concerned about The Bridge's outpatient services because it would mean more people would come through the neighborhood. Ogden said The Bridge is licensed to serve up to 70 outpatients but has about 20 now.

Local businessman Chris Gulledge said he had been in trouble as a teen and was in The Bridge's program. It turned his life around, he said.

"It's a great program," he said.

Wisniewski said he was not questioning The Bridge's program, just where it wants to relocate. He repeated that he was worried about neighborhood property values.

Jorge Santana, chief of staff for state Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D-179th dist.), said the property currently is being used by youths who are shooting up drugs. How does that affect property values, he asked Wisniewski.

Also, he said that because The Bridge's residents go home when they leave the program, The Bridge doesn't feed into the local drug-rehabilitation or recovery facilities. He added that Payton supported The Bridge.

Jason Dawkins, an aide to Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (D-7th dist.), said The Bridge would be positive for the community, especially since there are so many youths at risk of getting into trouble.

Frankford board member Al Mitchell said he was leaning toward backing The Bridge.

"I have seen too many of our young people lost to what's going on around them," he said.

Members did not vote on The Bridge.

On Tuesday, Wisniewski said members will make a decision publicly during their May 5 meeting.

Before discussing The Bridge, members heard from John Farrell and Jim Sanders from the Managing Director's Office, who briefly talked up the city's Philadelphia Rising program, echoing what they had said the previous week during a meeting of the Northeast EPIC Stakeholders.

The program is designed to put neighborhood people together with existing resources to help solve community problems. He said a meeting was scheduled at Aria Health's Frankford campus on April 13 to get the program under way in Frankford.

Earlier in the meeting, Gulledge, who is treasurer of the Secret Society Vehicle Club, presented a $500 donation from the club to the civic association.

Civic association members heard presentations on two other zoning matters.

William Hernandez asked for the association's support for putting an auto repair business at 4109 Worrell. The property, although not zoned for that kind of business, had been the site of previous auto repair shops. Hernandez wants to get Zoning Board of Adjustment approval.

The property is listed as a warehouse in the city's online property records. Specos said the association is backing Hernandez's request for a variance.

Attorney Dawn Tancredi said Miosotis Jones, the owner of 4271 N. Penn St., wants to use the three-story building as a four-unit apartment house. She said it had been used years ago as a multiunit building but more recently had changed to single-family zoning. A zoning variance is needed for multiunit use.

Civic group members were not as interested in the architectural plans being presented as they were in where Jones lived and if she owned other properties in the city. Tancredi said she didn't know where Jones resides or if she owns other buildings. On Tuesday, during a phone interview, Wisniewski said he later learned through Tancredi that Jones lives in Canada.

During last week's meeting, Wisniewski explained that members wanted to know if Jones owned other buildings so they could look at them to see what kind of landlord she is. Members didn't vote and asked Tancredi to return in May.

Wisniewski said the civic group will ask for a continuance on Jones' zoning hearing, which will take place this week, and vote on the application publicly during the association's next session.

The Frankford Civic Association's next session will be on Thursday, May 5, at 7 p.m., in the second-floor meeting room of Aria Health's Frankford campus, 4900 Frankford Ave.

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or