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Rubbish or riches? Park Rapids man who repairs salvaged bicycles faces nuisance complaint

Tom Condiff has been restoring bicycles for nearly a decade and giving them away to needy children. After a neighbor complained, the City of Park Rapids is requiring Condiff to either store the bikes in a building or get rid of them -- or else he'll be fined. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 3
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Tom Condiff hates to see perfectly good bicycles go to waste.

For nearly a decade, he's been refurbishing bikes, then giving them away to underprivileged kids.

At last count, he has donated 656 bikes.

But Condiff's generosity has suddenly smacked into roadblocks.

Born and raised in Park Rapids, Condiff and his wife of 51 years, Sharon, moved from Washington Avenue to Eastern Avenue about two-and-a-half years ago.

Recently, a neighbor complained to the City of Park Rapids about the bikes in the Condiffs' yard.

Last week, city officials and police officers informed Condiff he must get rid of them by July 1 or face a penalty.

"Boy, they just gave me very little time," he said.

An abundance of bikes

When the couple relocated, Condiff took two "huge" trailer loads of bike parts to the Hubbard County transfer station.

Now that their Washington Ave. home has sold, they spent a month clearing out 40 years of accumulation.

"My arms are still sore," he said.

Condiff moved about 150 bicycles to his front and backyard on Eastern Ave., putting them under tarps.

"Haphazardly, but under a tarp," he said.

Around the first of May, Condiff says a neighbor complained and a Park Rapids police officer stopped by, telling Condiff the bikes had to be enclosed.

Condiff purchased a $287 portable shelter, using it as a temporary garage.

"And that's full of bikes, too," he said.

Condiff placed a "for sale" sign on any bikes remaining outdoors.

Last week, a police officer returned, telling Condiff that city code prohibits more than two rummage sales per year and they cannot be more than four days in duration. The officer gave Condiff a deadline of July 1.

"I'm not a business. I'm just trying to get rid of these bikes," Condiff said.

He currently has approximately 85 bikes on hand.

In the last month or so, he has managed to sell or give away 45 bikes.

He placed an ad on a radio station's swap-and-shop. He called neighboring cities — Walker, Wadena, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Wadena — seeking organizations willing to take the free bikes. All expressed interest, but either couldn't transport or store them.

"I'm trying everything I can," Condiff said.

A "public nuisance"

Chapter 92 of Park Rapids' city code defines a "public nuisance" as something that "annoys, injures or endangers the safety, health, comfort or repose of any considerable number of people" and "affects the surrounding community in general or some local neighborhood."

"Junk or rubbish" is described as "any material or substance stored in the open or not enclosed in a building which does not serve, not is it intended to serve any useful purpose or the purpose for which it was originally intended." Examples given are refuse, debris, used furniture or appliances, machinery parts, tires, etc.

In response to an inquiry from the Enterprise, City Planner Ryan Mathisrud replied, "I can't comment directly on open files, but I would be happy to shed some light on ordinance violations generally. The City is only interested in achieving compliance with the city's nuisance ordinance Chapter 92 as well as any other ordinances that apply to a particular circumstance."

"As part of any law violation," he continued, "we work to achieve compliance with the law. In the case of nuisance complaints, this includes receiving a complaint, verifying whether or not a violation exists, working with the property owner to identify a reasonable timeline for them to abate the condition, and following up with them to achieve compliance with the ordinance," he said.

A hobby and good cause

Since about 2008, Condiff has bequeathed used bikes to children in need.

"I've seen a lot of kids that were walking, and you can tell. You can tell when somebody would rather be riding a bike. I've stopped a couple of them. 'Do you have a bike?' 'Well, no.' I always say, 'You check with your mom or dad first.'"

Condiff charges a fee only if a family can afford it.

"I'm a little bit careful about it. If you drive up in a brand-new SUV, guess what? You can either buy one or a buy a new one," he said.

In the past, he has donated bikes to Toys for Tots in Park Rapids and Hackensack. The local battered women's shelter has also received bikes.

Condiff was in sales for about 30 years, "but my hobby is mechanics. I've redone a lot of engines and cars. I work on my own cars."

"The bike thing" began while the Condiffs helped care for their grandkids. He tried to locate a single matching tire to fix up an old bike.

Repairing bikes became both a hobby and a community service project.

Condiff finds easily repairable bikes — even, like-new ones — at the Hubbard County transfer station.

"I've collected, to date, 1,027 bikes — not only from the dump, but from people and wherever," he said. "When I see a bike and all it needs is air in its tires, it just drives me nuts. I don't understand. Give it away, sell it, do something, but don't throw it away."

If a bicycle was beyond repair, he dismantled it for parts.

"I've taken apart about 300 or 400 of them."

After a September 2011 Park Rapids Enterprise article about Condiff's philanthropic efforts, word-of-mouth quickly spread.

"After that, oh, my goodness gracious," he said.

A Perham fellow delivered 17 bikes by trailer. Another guy brought five or six bikes.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of people asking 'Can you take these?' 'No, I can't take any more,'" he said.

He's not accepting bikes or bike parts.

"I no longer can," he said.