After 18 years as an ad-hoc organization with no official designation, the Last Stop is making moves to legitimize its recovery operation.
In January, the well-known Kensington recovery center was slapped with a $1.7 million lawsuit over zoning violations. With the help of an attorney, founder Eddie Zampitella has begun to resolve the citations that got him into hot water with the city — and is working toward incorporating as a nonprofit.
Zampitella told Billy Penn he has agreed to sign over his ownership of the Last Stop to an official board of directors. It’s a major change for the scrappy operation, which has always taken an under-the-table approach to addiction recovery. The board, once officially appointed as owners, will handle funding and legal matters.
Jay Edelstein, Zampitella’s attorney, concedes that his client dropped the ball by letting citations build up to the point of a giant lawsuit.
“What tends to happen is people like Eddie pretty much have their blinders on,” Edelstein said, “and he didn’t really worry for 400 days that every day $2,000 in fines was being added.”
In September of 2017, the Department of Licenses and Inspections handed Zampitella a citation for hosting more than 50 people at a time without a proper Certificate of Occupancy. A year passed without action on Zampitella’s part, and the fines continued to build. In the fall of 2018, L&I issued another warning citation for the same illegal assembly infraction.
“I love my dad to death, but when it comes to details, he’s a little scattered,” said Nicole Zampitella, Eddie’s daughter. “Dealing with the kinds of things he deals with every day, his focus tends to be on life or death matters.”
When the shift in ownership is complete, Zampitella will still run day-to-day services. He’s confident the Last Stop will be in good hands — since each of the five people set to be appointed to the board are in recovery themselves.
“The only thing I care about is that the building won’t be sold, and it’s always going to be an AA and NA clubhouse,” Zampitella said.
‘All the code violations are being fixed’
The Last Stop is a decades-old addiction recovery resource Zampitella founded to offer daily 12-step meetings, a hot meal and the occasional bed.
Originally, it was located Kensington Avenue near Front Street. It moved up to Somerset Street as neighborhood development shifted the community’s addiction and homelessness problems north.
But the new space wasn’t properly zoned for these services. In September 2017, an L&I inspector issued a citation for hosting crowded 12-step meetings there.
A year passed without resolution, and the Last Stop was shut down. Zampitella was due in court on Tuesday — but before the date arrived, he and his attorney managed to score a new use permit.
Issued on March 6, the new permit designates the first floor of the Last Stop under a “personal services” classification (it previously had “business and professional office” status). Per Philadelphia Code, the new category allows for pseudo-medical services, such as “the maintenance of fitness, health and well-being.” The permit also allows the assembly of up to 50 people at a time.
The use permit makes a difference, said Karen Guss, L&I spokesperson, “because you’ve now declared to the city, ‘This is what I’m doing.'”
Edelstein, the lawyer, offered a similar view on the new arrangement. “It allows the doors to stay open, it allows meetings to take place, it allows the serving of coffee and some minor refreshments to the people that are there,” he said. “All the code violations are being fixed.”
With Zampitella’s new documentation still warm from the printer, the outcome of his court case remains unclear.
“Very often at least some of it is resolved before you have that court case,” Guss said. “That doesn’t make the whole action go away. There’s still stuff on the table.”
The Last Stop’s next legal appearance has been pushed back to April 23. By that time, Edelstein said, he hopes all violations will be resolved so the city can drop its case — and not have to bring one in the future thanks to better oversight from the board.
“It’s pulling together pretty good,” Zampitella said. “But it’s not over yet.”