Salt Lake City considers loosening liquor laws, expanding area where bars can locate

Residents raise concerns about 'normalizing' laws

Published: Sunday, May 6 2012 11:51 p.m. MDT

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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.

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," Oscar 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.

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. The council also has renewed its call for public input on the proposed changes and has posted information about them online at Open City Hall.

"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 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)."

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."

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