Hello from bizarro world, Zion, where a bar's efforts to serve liquor and wine, rather than beer only, is cause for an hours-long public meeting and more than 14 months of political wrangling. And it's not done yet!!
The JAM at Marmalade (facebook and twitter @JAMslc) is achingly close to getting their liquor license.
Wednesday the Salt Lake City Planning Commission approved, almost unanimously, a text change to the MU, or mixed-use zone, to allow liquor-serving clubs in the zone.
Rather than repeat the spot news I did via Twitter (check them out here, and follow me @fruhwirth ), I'll give a bit of disjointed commentary.
The beer drinkers did their thing and totally upstaged the teetotalers. I don't have a total count, but public comment was undeniably and dramatically slanted on the pro-redifnition, pro-liquor, side. The Antis were clearly old Salt Lake, both age wise and residential history wise. There were at least two young families who live in Marmalade who opposed the rezone as well.
But a lot of new "Marmaladians" (was that a new phrase coined at the meeting?) spoke also, saying they just want a bar they can walk to. I believe them, as I'm sure most of you do. Even one 64-year-old Marmaladian, Ray "Lou" McDonough, a retired family therapist, said he doesn't want to go downtown for wine: he wants to walk to a neighborhood bar.
On the other hand, regarding drunk driving, the old residents have a point also: JAM is dang popular already, even without liquor. It is a magnet that attracts suburbanites--the owner/operators live in Layton, after all. So I see their concerns about attracting drunk drivers. Parking was also mentioned by the Antis several times. I'll admit, I don't get this complaint: In no other city that I've lived (Bismarck, Minneapolis, Madison, Accra) did residents feel entitled to the strip of public parking in front of their homes. First come, first served. But, anyway, the commission seemed concerned about parking also, so it's legitimate in the eyes of a lot of people.
On a third hand, attracting a lot of outsiders has its benefits also. Marmalade is/was undeniably depressed but for the efforts and vision of some city leaders, developers, business owners, realtors and new residents who can see the "gayborhood" in their minds and are making it a reality. I'll be honest, I was a skeptic that they could just grow a "gayborhood" from the ashes of a humble industrial/residential neighborhood. But it's happening.
Resident Jeff Bair (correction: before an edit I had attributed this to the wrong person) made the point that JAM has become an entry point for the neighborhood; people who would never come to Marmalade, much less consider purchasing a home here, come to visit JAM. Matt claims to know people who, after visiting JAM and reorienting their view of the neighborhood, bought a home there. That, he said, clearly helps redevelop a depressed area. I know more than one person like that also.
In the packet of public comments submitted before the meeting, one person was Pro-redefinition, pro-liquor, with one condition: Make Reed Avenue, which is JAM's southern border, a one-way street. That way, he wrote, bar patrons would be funneled onto 300 West and not into the neighborhood behind the bar. Great idea, I say, since Reed Avenue is incredibly narrow.
This process has also been a sad statement on the speed of local government. Included in the commission's packet was a petition of over 100 names asking that JAM be allowed to serve liquor. The signatures were all from April 2008! The JAM guys have been dealing with this on a weekly/daily basis since then, paying lawyers and others along the way. It's just mind boggling that all this fuss is over liquor at a bar that already serves beer. Oh yeah; it's not done, either. Now the City Council needs to approve the planning commission's recommendation, then the bar needs a conditional use permit, then they'll need an actual liquor license from the state. Does it ever end?
This zone redefinition is undeniably personal to JAM. Owner Robert McCarthy sponsored the change, and for the moment, Marmalade is the only MU in the city, and JAM is the only tavern seeking liquor within Marmalade. But, in theory, this zone redefinition will pave the way for other liquor bars in Marmalade. If any other places are zoned MU, they will inherit JAM's efforts as well.
One final note: the vote by the commission was unanimous in favor of the zone redefinition except for commission member Mathew Wirthlin. When asked to explain why, he said the change is "premature" because other neighborhoods could someday be zoned MU and so we shouldn't move too quickly on changing the definition. Other commission members suggested that his explanation was flawed - because if the city doesn't want private clubs in a neighborhood they simple won't rezone it MU - but he didn't make a motion to revote, so I imagine he stands by his explanation.