Salt Lake proposal could define, create more neighborhood pubs
SLC • Becker’s 2009 proposal is on table.
Published: May 14, 2012 10:33AM
Updated: May 14, 2012 08:26AM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Bartender Katie Selin pours a beer at Dick N' Dixie's Friday May 11, 2012.

What is a neighborhood pub?

Some imagine it as a friendly little place where everybody knows your name, like on the sitcom “Cheers.”

Others fear it could lead to a raucous joint where you’d find inebriated John Belushi-types stumbling out to their pickup trucks to drive home.

The Salt Lake City Council will wrestle with those perceptions in coming weeks, as well as various definitions outlined in Mayor Ralph Becker’s 2009 proposal to overhaul the city’s “out-moded” ordinances surrounding alcohol.

Among the provisions is one that would allow “dining clubs,” such as bars and pubs in “Residential Business Districts” (RB zones) and “Neighborhood Commercial Districts” (CN zones). The proposed ordinances are complex enough to spawn misunderstanding.

“There is a lot of confusion as to what different drinking establishments are,” said Salt Lake City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen of the proposed ordinances. “One of the biggest issues is just trying to understand some of the definitions and what’s included in them and what isn’t included in them.”

The sticking point for some residents is simply allowing alcohol to be served near neighborhoods.

“It’s pretty clear to me that we already have restaurants that serve alcohol [in neighborhoods],” Simonsen said. “Merely serving alcohol isn’t an issue [for the council].”

But when it comes to beer and booze and places that dispense it, Utahns — even Salt Lakers — are divided. That’s among the reasons the mayor’s two proposed alcohol ordinances have taken three years to work through the sausage-grinder that is municipal government.

The first one simply seeks to bring city regulations in line with state law, so that restaurants and bars don’t have to comply with two different sets of standards.

The second would broaden zoning throughout the city to define where such establishments could be located. The notion, explained Becker’s spokesman, Art Raymond, is to move away from the 30-year-old “Alcohol License Districts Map” that restricted alcohol to establishments downtown, the Sugar House business district, Brickyard Plaza, Beck Street and Salt Lake City International Airport. In terms of zoning, the proposed ordinance would treat brew pubs, taverns, dining clubs and social clubs much like other businesses.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission heard emotional pleas from residents on both sides of the issue before forwarding a positive recommendation to the City Council in January 2010.

But the council put it on hold, in what turned out to be the false hope that it could include those proposals in a comprehensive analysis of city zoning, particularly in neighborhoods.

The council has again taken up the alcohol issue, including the question: What is a neighborhood pub and where should it be allowed? What the council won’t consider is whether alcohol is good or bad. That, said Councilman Carlton Christensen, is an issue for the Utah Legislature.

Rather, he said, it will look at the proposal as a “policy discussion and how it impacts the neighboring businesses and residents.”

A deal-killer for some is that, as presently written, a “dining club” or pub of up to 2,500 square feet could be located in neighborhood commercial zones. Some fear that an establishment of that size would have to attract patrons from outside the neighborhood to meet its bottom line, said Capitol Hill resident Polly Hart.

“The square footage is a very big issue for neighborhoods,” she said. “Larger crowds gather more energy.”

By contrast, Dick N’ Dixie’s, a thriving neighborhood bar on the corner of 500 East and 300 South, is only 1,300 square feet.

The proposed ordinance requires that a pub in a neighborhood commercial area mitigate impacts — such as lights, noise and parking — as part of its conditional use permit.

Esther Hunter, who lives near the University of Utah and is chairwoman of the East Central Community Council, believes an ordinance can be successful if the council adopts one that is tailored specifically to each neighborhood.

“People want a neighborhood ‘Cheers,’ ” she said. “There is a way to work this out with mitigation and a surgical approach.”

The east side of 1300 East between 200 South and 300 South would be ideal for a pub, she noted. But presently, zoning on that block allows for much larger businesses.

“We’d like something that brings a 9th [East] and 9th [South] feel,” she said. “We don’t want a strip mall.”

The reasoning behind allowing pubs and restaurants in neighborhood commercial areas is that they bring a vibrancy, said City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa.

“It’s about activating our business nodes and making restaurants a viable part of our business community,” he said.

The impact to neighborhoods won’t be dramatic, LaMalfa said.

“My sense of the objections is that it’s from people who don’t like alcohol at all.”

No date has been set for a vote on the proposal.

csmart@sltrib.com

Definitions

Social club • A business that serves alcoholic beverages but is not required to sell a certain percentage of food.

Dining club • A business that serves alcoholic beverages but must serve a certain percentage of food.

Tavern • A business that serves only beer that has a 3.2 percent level of alcohol.

Brew pub • A business that brews beer for sale to customers and serves food.