Cycle Killer

Why is the city putting the brakes on the Derailer Bike Collective?

The ACLU soon expanded its probe of domestic intelligence-gathering. In May 2005, the national office filed a lawsuit against the FBI that accused the agency of spying on peaceful activists and failing to provide records that should be made public. That suit is pending, and the organization is still waiting for more files to be released.

"The FBI is unjustifiably treating non-violent public protest as though it were potential domestic terrorism," Silverstein says. "The FBI's misplaced priorities threaten to deter legitimate criticism of government policy while wasting taxpayer resources that should be directed to investigating real terrorists."

According to District 6 commander Deborah Dilley, the DPD has responded to numerous complaints about the Lipan house in the past, ranging from suspected narcotics to the general disarray of the yard to constant activity. But no arrests or citations have resulted.

The wheels keep turning: Sarah Graves helps a 
young cyclist fix his bike.
Anthony Camera
The wheels keep turning: Sarah Graves helps a young cyclist fix his bike.
What goes round comes round: Sarah Bardwell 
founded the Derailer Bike Collective.
photos by Anthony Camera
What goes round comes round: Sarah Bardwell founded the Derailer Bike Collective.

After the Derailer Bike Collective was fingered by the FBI as a potential terrorist group, it returned to its dangerous domestic activity of fixing bicycles.

Julia Wrapp is the owner of the house at 1065 Lipan, which was given to her in 2003 by a friend. When she rented the building to Liman, she didn't know it would grow to become a collective bike co-op -- much less an FBI target -- but she's still happy she did. "I totally believe in what they're doing," Wrapp says. "These kids are some of the most conscious individuals that I've come across. I have a couple of rental properties, and these kids have stepped up at their expense to help the community in every way, and I support them totally."

Wrapp, who worked as a transportation consultant for a number of years in Boulder, calls Derailer "a grassroots organization that is doing more for transportation efforts than just about anybody I can name. They're putting people onto bikes that need bikes and they're getting cars off the road."

She just wishes she could fix up the house where Derailer is located as efficiently. "I call it the haunted house from hell, because it scares me, the amount of renovation that's needed," she says. But she just doesn't have the money to do the job adequately.

When the house came to the attention of the city's zoning department, though, it wasn't because of its dilapidated state, or even because of all the bicycles that gathered in the alley. Instead, a neighbor complained about wood on the roof of the garage, and the city sent out an inspector.

Kathy Ortega, an inspector with Neighborhood Inspection Services of the Denver Community Planning and Development Agency, signed the April 5 cease-and-desist order that was sent to Wrapp, charging that in an R-2 zone district, "permitted uses do not include operating a non-profit boardinghouse and a non-profit bicycle shop."

But since Derailer charges no money, is it really a bike shop? And what's wrong with fixing bikes for free, anyway?

The problem is volume, according to Julius Zsako, communications director for the Department of Community Planning and Development. "If it's your hobby, in your garage, to fix bicycles, and you're doing a couple of them every week, there aren't any external effects to that that violate a residential use," he says. "But if you happen to have 132 bicycle frames and 42 bicycle wheels in your back yard, that's obviously not a residentially zoned property use."

Wrapp appealed to the Board of Adjustment for Zoning Appeals and granted Liman temporary power of attorney to handle the request for an extension. "We definitely want to work with the city so that the needs of the community are met from all sides," Wrapp says.

Although there's a July 25 hearing slated on that request, Michael Whalen, deputy director for the Board of Adjustment, says the board does not have the authority to dismiss a cease-and-desist order issued by Neighborhood Inspection Services. "A bike shop is not a permitted use in the R-2 district," he explains. So Derailer plans to ask for a six-month extension to come into compliance -- which would essentially be a stay of execution for the Lipan site.

Bardwell can deal with that. "I actually think it's going to motivate us to finally move out and find a new space," she says. She has dreams of a large warehouse with bathrooms, plenty of electrical outlets and lots of room for classes.

But she knows that it will be difficult to realize those dreams, since such a facility will cost money -- and the collective is not exactly the next class of Donald Trump wannabes. "We're bike mechanics at best," she says. "We're friends with some little kids in the neighborhood and help them fix their bikes."

At the moment, the best they can hope for is to fall under the umbrella of another nonprofit, or maybe get some help from the city. After all, Denver's mayor has championed both alternative transportation and a ten-year plan to end homelessness.

"Biking is one way that many Denverites stay in shape, enhance their commute and help reduce the congestion and pollution caused by automobile traffic," says Mayor John Hickenlooper, who adds that the city's high quality-of-life reputation is due in part to Denver's ranking as one of the best towns in the nation for cycling. He calls Derailer a "good cause," one he hopes can locate a proper home -- but there's little the mayor's office can do, Hickenlooper says, because the dispute is a zoning issue.

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