A good wine has to age. A proposal for a proper set of laws on where Salt Lake City would allow neighborhood pubs is, at more than two years old, ready to be poured.
In December of 2009, Mayor Ralph Becker's proposal to ease the city's zoning restrictions on taverns, dining clubs, social clubs and other establishments with the odd names required by Utah's even odder liquor laws had its first hearing before the Salt Lake City Planning Commission. That body approved the proposal the next month and sent it to the City Council for final action. Where it has sat ever since.
Now, the council has signaled that it is ready to resolve the issue. Which is exactly what it should do, without unnecessary delay but with, perhaps, a tweak or two that could ease concerns of some homeowners who aren't too fond of the idea of a big, noisy bar opening up in their neighborhood.
For three decades, the city's zoning law has limited businesses that serve alcohol for consumption on the premises to five areas: downtown, Sugar House, Brickyard Plaza, Beck Street and the airport. In a city that is home to not only 190,000 people, but also many distinct and vibrant neighborhoods, that is not nearly enough.
That is why it made sense for Becker to propose an ordinance that would generally allow both restaurants with liquor licenses and bars that do not feature food to set up shop in areas that are otherwise zoned for commercial uses.
The idea is to encourage neighborhood business centers think 9th and 9th, or 1300 East near the University of Utah to be diverse enough in their offerings that nearby residents will have little motivation to drive across town because they can find most, if not all, of the businesses they would want to patronize within walking distance. In the case of bars, that could even mean a reduction in the number of patrons who drive drunk.
In many ways, a bar or a restaurant with a drink menu is just another neighborhood business. They all increase traffic and, if not properly managed, have the potential to degrade a neighborhood with noise, lights or trash.
The fact that bars can be different, in reputation if not in fact, is why the proposed law would make them what urban planners call a "conditional use." That means that they cannot just open, but must get specific city approval for such things as parking, lighting and control of noise and trash.
And it is a reason the proposed limit on the size of some neighborhood bars 2,500 square feet might be dialed back a bit. A healthy neighborhood should have its own bar. But it should be neighborhood size.