In all things, moderation. That's true of the amount of alcohol any person should consume. And it is true of the number, and location, of bars and taverns in Salt Lake City.
The city's current restrictions on drinking establishments veer too far in the direction of denial. But Mayor Ralph Becker's proposal to ease up on the limits, in the name of neighborhood economic development, strikes some as going too far toward indulgence.
There is, of course, a middle ground in all of this. And it is good to hear that the City Council has tasked a few of their members to find it.
Council members got a snoot full of protest when they opened the floor to public comments the other day. Several of our neighbors were worried that Becker's idea would result in a rash of bars sprouting up on street corners adjacent to quiet residential neighborhoods. The predictable results would be traffic, noise and public hooliganism extending far into the night.
But the mayor's argument that this large and growing city ought to have a few more neighborhood taverns, within walking distance of more people, is worth acting on, and need not go so far as to say we have no holds barred on bars.
Right now, there is a flat ban on taverns outside of a few zones: downtown, Sugar House, Brickyard Plaza, Beck Street and the airport. That is a ridiculously small footprint for perfectly legitimate businesses to be allowed. Becker's proposal is to treat bars more like other businesses, and allow them in areas zoned for other retail business development.
It is a logical proposal that should be taken as the starting point for the council committee that has been named to study the issue. A zoning ordinance could clearly be drawn in such a way that taverns would be allowed in more places than they are now, but not on every street corner.
Bars could be limited to shopping areas that are already fairly large, and busy, that have adequate parking and that are buffered from residential zones by distance, or by the fact that they are surrounded by other, less objectionable stores and establishments. The city would have the power to deny zoning to any planned bar that would encroach too heavily onto a quiet neighborhood. And it could, on a case-by-case basis, limit the size, even the visibility, of bars in such a way that they would attract primarily a neighborhood clientele, not draw cars and drinkers from across the valley.
Picking the right place for neighborhood bars is no more complicated than a good wine pairing. The city should get this done.