It has taken members of the Salt Lake City Council several weeks to hash out the proper wording of an ordinance that would allow enterprising businesspeople to open a few pubs in neighborhoods that now lack such basic amenities of civilized life.
The fact that council members might have gotten the job done sooner had they been able to gather in the corner booth of a really good neighborhood bar does not lessen the fact that they seem poised to do the right thing.
The most important thing to understand about the proposed ordinance, which could be approved as soon as this evening, is that the floodgates will not be opened to either beer-focused taverns, brew pubs or to restaurants that feature alcoholic beverages in every city neighborhood.
Even if Mayor Ralph Becker and the members of the council wanted to do that and they don't the total number of watering holes is severely limited by the state laws that restrict the number of licenses for such establishments in every community.
For another, the proposed ordinance really only lifts the cork on the zoning restrictions for bars and clubs a little bit, listing them as a conditional use in more of the city's business-zoned areas, not limited only to the downtown core, Sugar House and a couple of others.
Even then, each and every one of the new establishments proposed under the new system will require a conditional use permit before it can open. That's city-planner talk for a process whereby would-be barkeeps would have to apply for permission to open a pub, even in zones where they are in principle allowed, and convince officials that their business would not be an undue burden upon the neighborhood. That means that these alcohol-related businesses would not have the same flexibility of, say, a convenience store, fast food place or dry cleaner, to open its doors in any block that was zoned for such uses.
The proposal is not foolproof, of course. No law is. The risk that the city might bet on the good will of a businessperson who might wind up doing a poor job of policing his or her own establishment, allowing too much noise, trash or drunken behavior, can never be completely removed from the equation.
But Councilman Luke Garrott is correct. Neighborhood pubs are places where people can get together, unwind, talk, share a little downtime and become real neighbors, not just people who happen to live nearby. They are not the only such places but, properly managed, they could do something to make us a real community.
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