The trouble started when Chuck Nafziger assembled two coffins in his front yard. Nafziger's a legend in the Fremont and Ballard artist community--he's helped with everything from building the Fremont Troll to organizing the annual Solstice Parade. Last year, he didn't think twice about building a cart with two coffins to protest the war in Iraq. "I dragged them through Ballard on a vigil right after the war started," 59-year-old Nafziger says, before depositing them in the yard of the Ballard home where he's lived since 1977.

His neighbor, however, didn't appreciate the activist art exhibit. "The fascist down the street doesn't like me," says Nafziger, a graying guy described with affection by his friends as curmudgeonly, stubborn, and "a perfect gentleman," despite his histrionic tendency to assign vitriolic nicknames ("fascists") to neighbors who dislike his art. The Stranger was unable to contact the neighbor, whom Nafziger declined to name. That neighbor "came to my door one time and accused me and my son of putting No Iraq War signs on his yard," he says. After Nafziger built the coffins, his neighbor apparently had enough. "The fascist called the city and complained," Nafziger says. "And they sent out an inspector who was quite a bit of a jerk."

That inspector, Nafziger says, visited in March and wrote him up for several code violations due to the various art works--both in progress and on display--in his yard. Along with the coffins, Nafziger had a dragon-like sculpture called Heaven's Bells, a 12-foot-tall Giant Crane Fly set up over the front door, a ship's capstan acting as a planter, and four metal fins stuck into the ground. According to the city, the pieces were junk, and storing junk in your yard is against city code. The inspector told him to clean it up or face a $500 fine.

Nafziger contested the citation, arguing in front of the city's Hearing Examiner that the stuff in his yard is art, not junk. The Hearing Examiner issued a mixed decision on July 8, reducing the fine to $100 but ordering that the coffins, the Giant Crane Fly, and the fins had to go. The Heaven's Bells sculpture and capstan, however, could stay.

But Nafziger's saga wasn't over. The inspector returned, taking issue with ladders and other art materials stored near his garage. "I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not do public art in my driveway," Nafziger says. That was the last straw for Nafziger, who has decided he's moving to Bellingham as soon as possible (his son attends school there), and dreams of eventually living in Canada. "If the city is going to come down on my free speech and shit all over art and allow some inspector to say that art is junk, I'm out of here."

His friends in the Fremont Arts Council (FAC) sent dozens of letters to the city in the past few weeks, protesting the way Nafziger has been treated. "A dispute with a well-to-do neighbor regarding front-yard aesthetics has escalated into an attack by various city agencies," Solstice Parade cofounder Peter Toms wrote to the mayor and city council. Toms' second concern--besides neighbors using city inspectors as weapons--is that city code is unclear when it comes to art versus junk, leaving it up to bureaucrats to decide. "That's where we get into the problem area," Toms explains. While it may be too late to convince Nafziger to stick around, Toms and his fellow artists hope the city will take a look at their yard-art policies. Frank Video, a legislative assistant in Nick Licata's office, hopes to discuss Toms' concerns with the Department of Planning and Development. "One of my questions will be, who decides what's junk and what's artwork?"

amy@thestranger.com

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