By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Over the objections of area doctors and dentists, Philadelphia City Council today approved a bill that prohibits new medical offices in the northeast section of the city unless the doctor gets a zoning variance.

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The two councilmen whose districts cover most of the Northeast — Brian O’Neill of the 10th District and Bobby Henon of the 6th District — say their neighborhoods are inundated with doctors’ offices.

“The Upper Northeast is overloaded with medical practices, and the new zoning code pretty much allows anything to be turned medical,” said Councilman O’Neill.

But now, Council has given unanimous final approval to O’Neill’s bill that bans new practitioners in his district unless they obtain a zoning variance.

O’Neill says it gives neighbors a say.

“You gotta meet with the neighbors,” he advises medical practitioners, “and the way to meet with the neighbors is to do a zoning variance.”

Henon agrees that the measure was needed for his district, too:

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“We just give an opportunity for the community to have some input.  And the zoning board votes on it, and welcome to the neighborhood!”

Doctors and dentists oppose the idea.

“Northeast Philadelphia needs more doctors, not less,” said Mark Austerberry of the Philadelphia County Medical Society before the vote.  And he alluded to what many believe is the true intent of the bill: to prohibit methadone clinics in Northeast Philadelphia.

“We appreciate City Council’s desire to ensure that certain medical facilities do not disrupt the neighborhood,” Austerberry said.  “But as many pediatricians would say, please do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

O’Neill denies that his goal was to ban methadone clinics.

The measure now goes to the mayor.  The Planning Commission, which advises the mayor on zoning matters, has recommended the plan be rejected.

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