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Salt Lake City considers loosening liquor laws

Salt Lake City considers loosening liquor laws

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Oscar and Judith McConkie live about two blocks away from the corner of 2100 East and 1300 South.

Four of the couple's eight children reside within walking distance of their home on Laird Way, which has become a gathering place for their 46 grandchildren and 60 great-grandchildren.

That's the main reason Oscar McConkie is concerned about rumblings that a sports bar may be moving into the area. The potential for bar patrons leaving such an establishment intoxicated scares him.

"We want this to remain a residential area without the dangers of having a sports bar or such an outfit," McConkie said.

If and when the U of U beats USC, we're going to have the biggest drunken brawl in the history of the world in the middle of a little residential area.

–Oscar McConkie

The area in question is zoned as a community business district, which under a proposal from Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker would allow businesses that serve or sell alcohol to locate there under certain conditions.

"That's a terrible idea for this area," McConkie said. "We're sitting here right next to the University of Utah. If and when the University of Utah beats USC, and they're going to do that sometime, we're going to have the biggest drunken brawl in the history of the world in the middle of a little residential area if they allow a sports bar here."

The proposed changes are part of an effort by the Becker administration to revamp Salt Lake City's alcohol regulations to make them consistent with state law, more business-friendly and less restrictive on where pubs, taverns and clubs can set up shop.

Public Input Sought
The city council has renewed its call for public input on the proposed changes. Find information about them online at Open City Hall.

The Salt Lake City Council will decide in the coming months where such establishments will be allowed to locate and what conditions must be met to do so.

"We recognize this is a challenging and complex discussion," Councilman Carlton Christensen said. "We're continuing to evaluate all our alternatives. We're certainly not on the verge of making a decision in the next week or two. There's a lot of thinking and discussion still to be had on this issue."

The "normalizing" of liquor laws in the city, as Becker calls it, has been one of the mayor's goals since taking office in 2008. In March 2010, following more than a year of study and public input, Becker's administration put forward a proposal to revise city liquor laws.

"Salt Lake City has some of the most restrictive, self-imposed alcohol regulations in the state of Utah," said David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff. "For over 100 years, we have heavily restricted the use and sale of alcohol."

Actions by the state Legislature in 2009 that overhauled the state's liquor laws — including the elimination of private club membership requirements — acted as a springboard for city leaders to make changes at the city level.

That same year, the City Council did away with a law that allowed only two bars per city block face. Other proposed revisions to city liquor laws have been on hold since late 2010 while city officials worked on an overall plan for neighborhood businesses.

"While a great deal of work has gone into these ordinances, we have taken kind of a time out for a year and a half," Councilman Charlie Luke said. "I think it's important that we … allow an opportunity to continue (the public process)."

Strong opinions voiced

A recent public hearing on the proposed changes attracted residents and business owners with strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Jonathan Dibble echoed McConkie's concerns about the community business district at 2100 East and 1300 South, saying the Becker administration's proposal opens the door for bars to move into commercial areas "surrounded by homes and places where people are rearing their families."

I think it's fair to reevaluate in a wholesale way where establishments that sell alcohol (are) able to do so.

–David Everitt

"We don't want a pub there," Dibble told the City Council. "We're not opposed to restaurants that serve alcohol. … What we oppose are establishments that are primarily there to dispense alcohol.

"What we don't need is our teenagers and people coming home on weekends and evenings running into and encountering patrons from a bar who may be impaired," he said.

Bridget Gordon, owner of the Green Pig Pub, 31 E. 400 South, said bar owners "take serving alcohol very seriously" and have rules in place to "try to keep people from driving intoxicated."

Gordon also pointed out that allowing neighborhood bars reduces the danger of drunken driving because they're walkable.

David Morris, owner of Piper Down at 1492 S. State, praised the proposed changes, saying they would have saved him several headaches when he was trying to open the bar nine years ago.

"I went to 14 public hearings trying to get my license," Morris said. "It was a bogged-down, convoluted mess."

The problem with the city's liquor laws for business owners, Everitt said, stems from the "fabled alcohol map" — a document more than 30 years old that dictates where establishments that sell alcohol can locate in Salt Lake City.

The proposed revisions to the ordinance would do away with the map and allow zoning to determine where alcohol can be served and sold.

"(We want) to allow alcohol-related establishments in areas of the city where they're appropriate," Everitt said. "That has changed over time."

Areas of the city that used to be residential now have commercial uses, he said.

"I think it's fair to reevaluate in a wholesale way where … establishments that sell alcohol (are) able to do so," Everitt said. "At the end of the day, the mayor would like any revisions of this code to be clear, sensible and balanced so they support his vision for thriving and walkable commercial centers and mixed-use areas."

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