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Whittier Neighbors Fight Drug Rehab Center over Historic Mansion

The house in dispute.

The house in dispute.

Nu-Way House is a drug and alcohol treatment center in Whittier that puts folks in transitional housing while they get over their addictions.

It wants to expand into the historic Pillsbury-Snyder mansion at 2118 Blaisdell, which was built as a wedding gift for John and Nelle Pillsbury-Snyder after they returned home safe from sailing on the Titanic. The previous owners had been trying to sell it for three years before Nu-Way bit for $1.2 million.

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Whittier residents are not happy.

The local neighborhood association is fed up with all the people getting chemical dependency treatment in Whittier, and some believe Nu-Way's operations are attracting drug dealers trying to score an easy market.

Noah Rouen, spokesman for the Whittier Alliance, says over the past few years, businesses and citizens have been working hard to revitalize their neighborhood while transitional housing programs kept pouring in. It's cutting away from the property tax base because nonprofits are exempt, and it's discouraging business investments, Rouen says.

The Pillsbury-Snyder mansion alone represents about $75,000 a year in property taxes. "The issue is there is a real clustering of these transitional houses. It's not all chemical dependency treatment facilities, but there's certainly a large concentration of that type in Whittier," he says.

Whittier has 30 supportive housing facilities within about a quarter-mile. The city code only allows for one.

Also, residents are afraid that Nu-Way would alter the Pillsbury-Snyder mansion beyond the point of no return before preservationists can get historical designation for the building.

David Vennes, executive director of Nu-Way, doesn't have much to say about the drug dealing "nimbyism."

"That's a really interesting theory. That's a closely held opinion of the Whittier Alliance, but there's just no evidence," Vennes says. "Center City is not a hotbed for drug dealers because Hazelden is out there. Anybody who knows anything about recovery knows that's really not true."

As for the property tax losses, Vennes says he's sympathetic. "But at the same time, we're a nonprofit organization and we're in the business of creating public good by dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction," he says. "We employ a lot of people in the neighborhood and create a lot of revenue and taxes for the city too."

The city zoning and planning committee will vote on the issue tonight.

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