SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal allowing neighborhood bars in Utah's capital city will come to a vote Tuesday night, and at least one city councilman is so confident it will pass that he is planning a victory party, and he's using public money to do it.
Luke Garrott, one of the more vocal proponents of the alcohol-related zoning changes on the City Council, said he's got the necessary four votes lined up to secure a victory.
Years of discussion have surrounded a proposal to change zoning for alcohol-specific establishments, which would open up new areas for business. Some of those areas abut residential zones.
On Friday, Garrott began inviting supporters, past public officials, and individuals who have worked on the issue to a private reception that will follow Tuesday's meeting.
The event will be funded from Garrott's "constituent communication" budget, public money set aside for City Council members to be used at their discretion.
Sugar House resident Michael Erickson has vocally opposed aspects of the proposal for two years. He received a forwarded copy of the email announcing the celebration from another resident who also opposes the changes.
Erickson said it doesn't seem right that members of the council are planning to celebrate such a divisive decision before a vote is taken.
"It appears to me to be evidence that at least this member of the City Council and perhaps others have not really been all that focused on a compromise," he said. "They've been more focused on winning their side."
Garrott said the reception is meant to celebrate the work that went into an initiative that he called an important step in Salt Lake City's neighborhood business development.
The reception isn't specifically in honor of the alcohol zoning ordinance, though that is the most visible item on the agenda, Garrott said. Also on the docket are transit concerns, mother-in-law apartments and a demolition ordinance.
"This has to do with the convergence of all these issues, but to lift a cup of cheer for the alcohol vote, I think, is fitting," he said.
Garrot said he doesn't see the issue as "divisive."
"It's an issue of neighborhood development," he said. "I think that the voters of Salt Lake City have shown they are in support of this kind of change."
City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said he's not sure the vote is wrapped up, but he also supports the change.
"If I were a betting man, I'm not sure I would place any bets on what might happen (Tuesday)," he said.
Simonsen said the reception is appropriate, noting that legislative activities and capital improvements in the city have been celebrated in the past.
"For some council members, this is a pretty important milestone," he said, "and I think it's entirely appropriate for them to be able to call a little attention to it and have an event to acknowledge what's happened."
Since taking office in 2008, Mayor Ralph Becker has been working to make the city's liquor laws less restrictive. In March 2010, following more than a year of study and public input, Becker put forward a proposal to revise city liquor laws.
Under Becker's plan, some businesses would be allowed to serve alcohol in commercial zones near neighborhoods. The goal, city leaders have said, is to make the city's alcohol regulations consistent with state law, more business-friendly and less restrictive by letting zoning dictate their location.
Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke proposed a compromise that would allow only restaurants to serve alcohol in commercial zones near neighborhoods, meaning social clubs, taverns and brew pubs would not be able to locate in those areas. That alternative, however, found little support from his City Council colleagues.
Luke said his opposition to Becker's proposal is "strictly zoning related, not alcohol related." He does not agree with zoning changes that would allow alcohol-specific establishments in neighborhood business districts that are surrounded by single-family neighborhoods.
"What the ordinance is setting out to do makes sense in some parts of the city, but it doesn't make sense everywhere," he said.
Luke chuckled at the mention of Garrott's reception, saying he is going home after the vote.
When Erickson learned of the reception and anticipated approval of the zoning change, he began contacting friends and neighbors in hopes that a final chorus of opposition might sway Tuesday's decision. He said there is still hope that their voices will be heard and real compromise will be achieved.
"There's still a chance to influence and to make your voice and opinion known about this issue," he said. "A party has been planned. Let's find something, a compromise, that everybody can agree to … that would be more inclusive of our entire community so that it really is something to celebrate."
Luke said this issue has been discussed in several City Council meetings, with an almost unprecedented amount of public comment. No matter what happens in the vote, there is no question it has been talked about extensively, he said.