To hear neighbors and the City of Raleigh tell it, 822 Chamberlain St. was a smelly, litter-strewn property overrun by junk and dozens of bicycles and parts.
But for many local bicycling enthusiasts and community activists, the 40-year-old duplex near Cameron Village was a hub for benevolent, grassroots nonprofit groups. These included Action for Community in Raleigh, an activist group that includes the bicycle co-op 1304bikes, which accepts donated bikes, teaches people how to repair them and gives them away, and the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, an independent collective that serves free vegetarian and vegan food to the community.
The co-op and meeting space closed earlier this month after the City cited the property owner, Jefferson Shallal, who lives in New York, with zoning violations related to the groups' meetings and activities. In a letter to Shallal, the City threatened to fine him $200, plus $500 each day the property was noncompliant.
"We received a month notice from the property management company [Horizon Management], who was informed by the city, that we would need to stop all civic activities," 1304bikes co-founder Doug Czajka told the Indy. "The city said that our nonprofit was acting as a civic club on a residentially zoned property."
Although it is unlikely, the property owner or manager could have requested a change-of-use permit that would have allowed the clubs to continue to operate out of the home. The permit change would require City Council approval, and the building would have to meet commercial building code requirements.
Neighbors have been griping about the property for at least three years. The latest complaint was received by the City of Raleigh's housing and environmental department in July 2008; city inspection reports show it took no action on the property until two months ago when neighbors complained that it was "a complete dump," according to city documents. However, the only noted public nuisance citation was for long grass.
Czajka acknowledged the co-op stored many bikes outside; the grass, he said, was other tenants' responsibility. "It's unfortunate that some neighbors felt that way, but most people in the community supported us."
1304bikes is looking for a new space and conducting mobile bike repair workshops in several Raleigh neighborhoods, Czajka said.
"Ultimately, we would like to find a larger space in the downtown area that will be more suitable to our needs. We had already outgrown the space we were in, and had begun to look for other spaces even before we lost our current one," he said.
Lynne Walter, shop coordinator, issued a press release asking Mayor Charles Meeker and City Council to help the co-op find warehouse space near downtown, particularly in light of the city's recently commissioned comprehensive bicycle transportation plan.
"We truly hope the mayor and City Council realize that a thriving community-based and community-supported bicycle collective greatly enhances our city's ability to provide healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation," Walter said.
Additional reporting by Lisa Sorg.