Pizza and public policy aren’t mixing well in Capitol Hill where the owners of neighborhood staple Sexy Pizza say their landlord has decided not to renew their lease as the result of a disagreement over a pile of rocks that the building’s ownership company placed out front.
And while Sexy Pizza will close on July 24 (as it searches for a new location nearby), the rocks may have to go as well as the city of Denver said they are blocking the public right-of-way.
The large rocks first appeared in March, prompting Kayvan Khalatbari, who co-founded Sexy Pizza, at 1018 E. 11th Ave. in 2008, to comment on Facebook about how the restaurant hadn’t been notified and would never have agreed to the rocks if it had been given a choice.
Some property owners in Capitol Hill and other parts of the city have installed similar rocks, as well as fencing, to prevent homeless people from setting up tent encampments.
The rocks at Sexy Pizza blocked access to a bike rack, rendering it “unusable,” Khalatbari said, and added they also obstructed an area where delivery drivers usually parked. “It was really detrimental to our business.” In addition, Khalatbari, who was once homeless himself, has been an advocate for people living on the streets and doesn’t believe the rocks are a good solution.
In fact, a few years ago, he tried to partner with the nonprofit Homeless Out Loud to have lockers built outside Sexy Pizza for homeless people to use to safely store their belongings. But he said the building’s landlord, Katherine Diane MacRossie, denied his effort to get a city permit to have the lockers installed.
After Khalatbari spoke to Denverite about the rocks, he said that MacRossie, a managing partner for Ogden Investment Company, LLP, which owns the building, emailed him and told him she wouldn’t be renewing Sexy Pizza’s lease, which expires July 24.
Khalatbari said he asked MacRossie if Sexy Pizza could transition to a month-to-month lease while it looked for a new location — a process he said could take up to a year — and even offered to pay double the rent. But MacRossie declined, saying, “We are not interested in your offer and have a team scheduled to begin working in August,” according to a text message thread between the two that Khalatbari provided to the Denver Post.
MacRossie didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
It turns out that some of the rocks don’t comply with city public right-of-way regulations, according to Nancy Kuhn, communications director of Denver Public Works.
After a Denver Post inquiry, the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure conducted an investigation and requested the rocks adjacent to the curb line be either removed or pulled back to improve pedestrian access and allow people parking there to open their car doors.
“We’re doing this in support of safety and mobility and our general placement criteria for raised encroachments in the right of way,” Kuhn told The Denver Post.
Kuhn added that the city had also recently asked a property owner at 16th and Sherman streets to move some rocks off the curb line so people could open their car doors. In addition, a May 2022 report by Rocky Mountain PBS found 19 instances of illegal mesh fencing installed in public rights of way to deter homeless camping in Capitol Hill.
As it searches for a new location, Sexy Pizza will operate out of a ghost kitchen, CloudKitchens at 810 Vallejo St. in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Khalatbari says he hopes to find a spot within a mile of the original location, but is having trouble doing so.
“I suppose time will tell how this affects our business and whether it will be sustainable to keep everyone on staff a month from now, three months from now, a year from now,” Khalatbari said in an email to The Denver Post.
“We’re ready and willing to dig into the piggybank to keep folks employed as long as possible. Hopefully business continues at levels from before/increases for delivery and carryout, and this transition plan works out until we find that next more permanent home,” he added.
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