Salt Lake City leaders approved one of the most sweeping changes to the capital city's alcohol laws in the past 20 years, lifting a spacing requirement for downtown bars and taverns Tuesday.

The City Council's unanimous vote means blocks downtown — an area generally bordered by North Temple, 200 East, 950 South and 500 West — could be home to more than two bars.

The change also removes spacing limitations for brewpubs and microbreweries.

Councilman Luke Garrott, who represents downtown, credited city outreach and open-mindedness for making the change possible.

"Our downtown is going to be more like a downtown now," Garrott said. "This vision of having Salt Lake City be a great American city and yet still be a unique city … will be reached. I think we're going to draw more people to our city. It will be an attractive place, a more diverse place, exactly what an urban core should be."

The free-market approach to controlling the number of downtown bars will still be limited by state laws, including a dwindling number of liquor licenses and a 2009 law that restricts alcohol sales within 200 feet of churches and schools, even if there is no opposition.

City leaders have said they will not take on those issues during the 2010 session.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker called Tuesday's vote a "major step" for Salt Lake City.

"It's just one piece of the puzzle in revitalizing downtown," Becker said. "But it's not something that will revitalize the area in a matter of months or even a year."

Just one person spoke during a public hearing on the matter last week. Downtown Community Council Chairman Christian Harrison expressed "full-throttle support for alcohol normalization downtown."

Still, the council delayed the vote, citing concerns about pockets of single-family homes on downtown's south side. In those areas, the city will allow bars on a case-by-case basis with approval coming from the Planning Commission.

City officials will next look to tackle a more controversial issue: an ordinance change that could clear the way for bars and taverns in residential commercial nodes, such as 9th and 9th, 15th and 15th, North Temple and Sugar House.

While that promises to be a more difficult proposition, Becker believes it is manageable.

"We've done a very good job of addressing the concerns neighbors may have," he said.

Tuesday's vote came during the council's final meeting of the year. A vote on allowing bars in residential commercial districts will come after Councilman-elect Stan Penfold replaces outgoing Councilman Eric Jergensen.

Penfold expressed support for neighborhood bars during his campaign.

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