SALT LAKE CITY — It's last call for those who want to weigh in on Mayor Ralph Becker's proposal to expand the area where businesses that serve alcohol can set up shop in Utah's capital city.
The Salt Lake City Council has set aside time Tuesday to receive public comment on Becker's plans to revamp the city's alcohol regulations. The goal, city officials said, is to make city requirements on establishments that serve alcohol consistent with state law, more business-friendly and less restrictive on location.
But location has emerged as the most controversial of the proposed changes as businesses that serve alcohol would be allowed to operate in commercial districts near residential areas, under certain conditions.
Calls and emails on the issue have been pouring into the Salt Lake City-County Building for several months as a vote on the issue nears. The City Council is expected to vote on the issue next month.
"We have been fielding questions and inquiries from concerned residents but also many comments from folks who are looking forward to being able to stay in their neighborhood to have a beer," said Art Raymond, spokesman for the mayor's office.
For the most part, cheers have been drowned out by the concerns of those who worry what the changes would mean to their community.
Karren Hammer is among the 81 people who have shared their opinions on the proposal through Open City Hall, an online forum hosted by Salt Lake City. Most of those who've posted comments for city officials' consideration have been opposed to the changes.
"Residential neighborhoods and bars or even restaurants that serve alcohol should not co-exist," Hammer wrote. "Alcohol presents a real danger to all residential neighborhoods."
Like several residents who spoke against the proposed changes during a public hearing in April, Hammer raised the concern about the potential increase for impaired drivers in residential areas.
"The first alcohol-related death as a result of changing the zoning laws and allowing alcohol closer to a residential neighborhood will be your fault," she wrote. "You don't want that burden, and we don't want to worry about the consequences of what would be a very bad decision. Don't even consider locating businesses that serve alcoholic beverages close to residential neighborhoods."
David Sloan, an attorney who says he has "dealt with lives completely destroyed by alcohol," also opposes the proposed changes.
"There is a cold, hard reality that underlies the social aspects of drinking that needs to be recognized for what it is," Sloan wrote.
City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen responded to the concerns:
"The idea that this is going to propagate a lot of new businesses that serve alcohol in the city, that's not accurate," Simonsen said. "There will still be a lot of regulation that goes into this."
In addition to state regulations that prevent businesses from selling or serving alcohol within 600 feet of churches, schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries, several conditions would be placed on all such establishments in Salt Lake City's residential business, neighborhood commercial and community business districts.
In addition to size and parking requirements, businesses wanting to serve alcohol in commercial zones near residential areas will have to file a security and operations plan, Raymond said.
The plans, he explained, would require representatives of the businesses to meet with neighbors to resolve any complaints about the business moving into the area before it's allowed to locate there.
The plans also would require businesses to meet criteria designed to prevent future complaints, such as buffers between the business and homes. They also would deal with noise, trash and locations for smoking.
"These kind of businesses come with an extra set of responsibility and an extra set of responsibilities to their neighborhoods," Raymond said.
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.
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 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.
A map designating districts where alcohol can be sold and served has been in place and used for more than 30 years.
"Clearly, our city has grown and evolved dramatically since then," Raymond said. "It was really appropriate for an overhaul."
Under the proposed revisions, the alcohol map would no longer be used. Instead, zoning would dictate where establishments that sell alcohol can locate in Salt Lake City.
"That creates a system that can evolve as our city continues to change and grow," Raymond said.
Tuesday's City Council meeting gets under way at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the City-County Building, 451 S. State. Comments on the proposed changes also are still being accepted through Open City Hall.