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Hot dog stand on hot seat

Donna Gray

A Chicago hot dog stand came under fire for county zoning violations Monday. Chicago Italiano, a mobile restaurant on wheels parked on Highway 82 across from the Sopris restaurant, might be popular with ex-urbanites who miss their hometown cooking, but the business is now in jeopardy because a neighbor blew the whistle to the county in October.In a letter dated Oct. 15 addressed to county code enforcement officer Steve Hackett, attorney Rick Neiley, representing the owners of the adjacent property, Valley Investment Properties Partnership LLC, complained that the trailer violated county setback and sign regulations.Valley Investment Properties Partnership LLC owns the Thunder River Marketplace at 6800 Highway 82, a few blocks north of the hot dog stand.Neiley asked the county to “look into these probable violations and take whatever remedial action you deem appropriate.” Chicago Italiano, owned by Clara and Robert Smith, opened Sept. 3 and was soon a favorite destination of Italian beef sandwich and Chicago hot dog fans. The trailer, which the Smiths have driven to local and regional festivals, is now parked next to Village Liquors at 7104 Highway 82, on property owned by George Soukup. The business closed on Nov. 20, Clara Smith said, exactly 30 days after the Smiths received a notice of violation from Hackett.After a lengthy hearing on Monday, the county commissioners gave Soukup and the Smiths 60 days to file for a building permit, an action that would move them forward to building a permanent home for the hot dog and Italian beef stand.The commissioners also have allowed the business to remain open during that time.Clara Smith said she expects to reopen on Thursday or Friday.At issue are a number of zoning violations. The trailer is placed beyond setback requirements for that portion of the property, Hackett said, and the signs advertising the business do not have the requisite permits.But a broader and more difficult issue is the fact that the business must be housed in a building that meets county building codes. County planner Mark Bean explained to the Smiths and Soukup Monday that a mobile trailer cannot by its nature meet the county’s building code. However, if they had a permanent home for the business, that violation would be nullified.Soukup agreed that he would seek a solution to finding a permanent building at the commissioners meeting Monday.But the requirement rankles Clara Smith.”I don’t want to be forced into something. They gave us 60 days, but our finances won’t be there or our plan. I don’t want to be forced by some official to open a long-term business on someone else’s time frame. I think would have been reasonable give us a year, not 60 days.”Smith also believes the original complaint from Valley Investment Properties Partnership LLC came about over a feud with Soukup.Valley Liquors, owned by Soukup, was originally located in the Thunder River Marketplace where Rhino Liquors is now doing business.”I guess when the (Valley Liquors) lease was up the owner of the building didn’t put the lease back on table, they pulled it, and put in their own liquor store,” Smith said. “We stepped in the middle of that pot.”Both Smith and Soukup also complained to the commissioners Monday about what they characterized as disrespectful treatment by Hackett.Smith said she and her husband and Soukup had never been advised about the specific codes they’d violated and what recourse they had to appeal.”He told us we had to shut down and get out of there immediately. I wanted to know what I did wrong,” Smith said.She also pointed out to the commissioners that there are other food service businesses operating out of trailers in the county.”I believe we’ve been selectively prosecuted,” Smith said. “I’m not trying to cause trouble for someone else, but I think we’re being unfairly singled out.”Smith said she and her husband operated their business in good faith. “We were not told how we could get into compliance. We’re not scofflaws. We’re just regular citizens.”Chicago Italiano has some avid supporters. Stacey Linman of Glenwood Springs said in a letter to the editor (see page 11), “As a former Chicagoan, I was thrilled to discover this gem, this little piece of Chicago. Chicago-style hot dogs, hot Italian beef with hot peppers – there ain’t nothin’ like it!”Linman said if she gets a craving for an Italian beef sandwich she’ll drive from downtown Glenwood Springs where she works just to satisfy her appetite.”The hot dogs are one thing but when I saw they have hot Chicago beef I almost died. There’s nothing (else) that comes close here,” she said.County Commissioner Trési Houpt was in favor of giving the Smiths and Soukup some latitude.”I’d like to see them be able to stay in business. … I would not like to see them fail,” she said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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