Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Let the Liquor Flow--Barely

Posted By on October 28, 2009, 12:17 PM

I just came from a briefing with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's chief of staff regarding alcohol normalization. For those in favor of the mayor's proposal, and those opposed, the most important thing to understand is how modest the administration's goals are, and how (perhaps) imperceptible the results may be, at least in the short term.---
I've reported this before, but what's new today is a time line of how the city plans to implement these things.
The normalization process will come in pieces, each piece requiring different levels of review by varying legal bodies.
The first move the city will make, Chief of Staff David Everitt said, will be removing the current restriction that forbids more than two liquor-serving establishments on any one block face.
They'll do that, Everitt said, first by removing the two-bars-per-block restriction from the downtown zones only. For the uninitiated, there are four different sets of zoning restrictions in the downtown area, named D1, D2, D3, D4. For years, liquor-serving establishments were only allowed in Salt Lake City in those four zones (other cities have their own laws). That's beginning to change (see more below). 
The City Council may begin consideration of this proposal by December, Everitt said.
But the administration's efforts won't end there. Eventually, the city wants to remove the alcohol map, which would allow liquor-serving establishments outside of downtown. This is for neighborhood bars. But, before they do that, they want to insert a conditional-use permit process into all sorts of city business zones so that neighborhood bars need the blessing of neighborhood associations before they can open. The conditional-use provisions will also create new neighborhood-friendly restrictions like no outdoor music amplification, for example. Once that happens, let the liquor flow from the Avenues to Brickyard Plaza.
Or, not. There's two big state-level restrictions that foul up the liquor love. First, liquor may not be served within 200 feet of parks, schools, churches and some other things. That restriction seems to (nearly?) eliminate the chance for a liquor bar in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, for example. The other state issue is the number of statewide licenses that are made available; currently those licenses are nearly maxed out, nearly constantly. So opening a new bar means getting one of these sought-after licenses, and the process for getting one is unpredictable. Who gets them is decided by the five-member Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission, and while they have guidelines for deciding who gets permits, it's hard to know what they'll do when multiple worthy applicants seek the same permit.
Everitt said "unequivocally" that the city will not lobby the Legislature this year to change either of those things. “We're working on our own house now,” he said.
The city has already allowed liquor-serving establishments in the "Residential Mixed Use," or RMU zone (that's where Andy's Place is on 3rd South 5th East), and the City Council is currently considering allowing the same in the "Mixed Use," or MU zone (that's where JAM is on 3rd West and 750 North). So some changes are being made. The state won't stop all the reforms.
But the city mostly sees this as laying the groundwork for a better future, even if the short-term results may be modest.
I asked Everitt the following: If at the end of Becker's tenure as Mayor, if there's not a single block in Salt Lake City that has three bars, just as an example, will you be disappointed?
"No," Everitt said. "I really think change is in the long-term."

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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