Cafe Society

Chile roasters will make the most of Denver next fall with a change to the zoning code

Chile pepper season is coming to an end in Denver, and the vendors who sell the smoky-hot goodness from New Mexico and southern Colorado will soon be packing up their roasters, bushel baskets and awnings for the winter -- if they haven't already.

But the city's new zoning code -- approved this past June -- means there could be more chile stands in town next season, or at least old stands in new places. While a glitch in the publication of the code initially made it appear that chile stands would only be allowed to operate in spots that are 500 feet or more from a residential area, that isn't the case.

"Rather, the new zoning code expands opportunities for seasonal outdoor sales," says Sue Cobb, spokeswoman for the Denver planning department.

Under the old code, chile venders, farmers' markets and other food stands are only allowed in three zones -- B-3, B-4 and I-0 -- while the new code permits these uses throughout Denver's commercial areas. So chile stands could now operate along West 38th Avenue or even in the Golden Triangle, for example. The code has confused some vendors, like Mile High Chile owner Martha Pena, who had her stand on South Federal Boulevard near Cedar Street for most the chile season this year and thought Denver was trying to get rid of the stands.

"I was sweatin'," says Pena, who runs the stand with her daughter Janie. A 500-foot rule would have made it more difficult to find a good location. And although the new code may expand the area where chile stands can go, customers are trained to hit Federal Boulevard, as Pena found out this season when she tried to relocate to South Broadway.

"My customers couldn't find me there," she says. So Pena returned to Federal.

According to Cobb, the city will clarify the fact that seasonal outdoor sales aren't restricted by a 500-foot rule in a "clean-up amendment" that will be filed by the end of the year. Until then, both the old zoning code and the new one are operating in tandem to give people and businesses time to get used to the changes.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes