A strong gust of wind sends the bicycle wheels whirling on the sculpture in Perry Lafluer’s front yard.



It’s a sort of giant wind chime made from broken bikes welded together. It’s not to be outdone by the 8-foot tall mass of bike parts surrounding Lafluer’s mailbox on busy Route 31, east of the village of Palmyra.

A strong gust of wind sends the bicycle wheels whirling on the sculpture in Perry Lafluer’s front yard.

It’s a sort of giant wind chime made from broken bikes welded together. It’s not to be outdone by the 8-foot tall mass of bike parts surrounding Lafluer’s mailbox on busy Route 31, east of the village of Palmyra.

“We get a lot of people that stop and take pictures and say how cool it is,” said Lafluer.

Passersby have plenty to gawk at on this small lot with a modest yellow house. There are also a dozen or so metal bikes turned into a sort of enclosure for the garbage toters, a row of bikes used in the summer to support grape vines and blueberry bushes, and a roughly made bike “person” with reflector eyes and a chain for hair.
 
‘He has no pride’
But not everyone is pleased with the Lafluer property.

Palmyra resident Robert Copenhagen lodged a complaint with the town that included photos of the Lafluers’ lot, showing not only the welded bike formations, but also a tarp-covered carport filled with dozens of bikes in various stages of disrepair and several bikes on the concrete slab porch.

“Do we really want this person as a neighbor?” asked Copenhagen. “He has no pride in ownership and makes this part of Palmyra junkie-looking. …This person is creating a junkyard without any shame on his part.”

Palmyra Code Enforcement Officer Dan Wooden said he has received other complaints about the property. He cited Perry Lafluer with various code violations late last week. Specifically, he’s accused of having “junk and debris,” “erecting a temporary structure without a permit” and “running a business in a zoning district that doesn’t allow it.”

The “junk” is the hundreds of bikes on the property — mostly stored inside a three-walled carport, which is the “temporary structure” in question.

The town also contends Lafluer is running a business because bikes are repaired and sold on the property. The lot, according to the town Code Enforcement Office, is zoned for agriculture and homes, not businesses. In order to operate a for-profit venture, Lafluer would need a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, Wooden said.

A hobby or business?
Perry Lafluer contends he’s not running a business. Though there’s a tiny sign next to his driveway advertising bike repairs, he said it’s “just a hobby” for his 17-year-old son, Alex, a senior at Newark High School.

“It’s more or less like a 24/7 garage sale,” Lafluer said, noting that Alex spends time after school and on weekends repairing bikes for friends and strangers alike. Bikes and bike parts line the walls and hang from the ceiling in their garage, which serves as Alex’s workshop.

The elder Lafluer, who owned the now-shuttered White Feathers bakeries in Palmyra and Marion, said he’s unable to work because heart problems left him disabled. That means little income for he and Alex.

 Alex said he is using the modest income to save up for a car. This past fall he bought all his own school clothes, his dad said proudly.

“It’s hard for kids to find jobs,” the elder Lafluer said. “At least he’s trying to set something up for himself and save for the future.”

Alex has been repairing bikes for about two years. Having grown up watching his father’s handiwork, it came easy to him. It started with his own bikes, then friends’, as word spread of his talent.

About twice a day — usually when Alex is at school — passersby stop to inquire about repairs or to see if there are any used bikes for sale. His dad said he is happy to oblige, collecting names and numbers for Alex. He said they’ve had plenty of positive reviews for the speedy fixes and low cost. Occasionally Alex donates parts or whole bikes to folks who can’t afford them.

 “All the bicycle shops charge like an auto mechanic,” said Alex.

His dad added, “Not everybody can afford a $300 bicycle.”

Overzealous enforcement?
 Perry Lafluer thinks the town is overstepping its authority.

 “I thought at one point, a human being could put things in their yard for artistic design,” he said.

Lafluer said there are plenty of other yards along the canal on Route 31 that are in far worse shape and littered with trash.

“If they’re going to cite me for just bicycles around my yard, then they are going to hear from me every day about people up and down this road,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Lafluer has heard from the town on an alleged code violation. Before he fell ill, he ran a scrap metal operation.

“When I was healthy I tried to do my scrapping — they came here and said, ‘You can’t have all the refrigerators sitting around all the time,’” he said. “I did the scrapping in the garage where no one could see anything.”

Lafluer stopped the scrapping operation and cleaned up the property, knocking down a metal building and hauling away debris to a recycler.

As for the bike repair operation, the Lafluers say they haul any metal parts Alex can’t use to a recycling center. The dozens of bikes in the carport were donated by friends and through word-of-mouth and are awaiting Alex’s inspection.

“Basically we’re just reorganizing right now,” said Lafluer.

He and Alex planned on putting up a shed Alex bought to store bikes, but the town’s notice may put the brakes on that.

Wooden said he spoke to Lafluer Monday and gave him until May 1 to clean up the property. He also told Lafluer he can seek the special use permit from the ZBA to run the bike business. And, Lafluer can apply for a building permit for the temporary structure, Wooden said.

If Lafluer doesn’t comply with the town’s order, he can face fines and other penalties, he said.

Of his son, Lafluer said, “I really would hate to see him lose everything he’s worked hard for."