Utah's shorter proximity rule could still leave some restaurants without alcohol

Monday , March 20, 2017 - 5:00 AM3 comments

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Just a few feet shy of a beer.

Under Utah’s recently relaxed 300-foot proximity rule — part of massive liquor legislation slated to take effect May 9, 2017 — the Even Stevens sandwich shop at 2214 Washington Blvd. comes so, so close to qualifying for enough separation between itself and the LDS Temple kitty-corner across the street. 

“Unfortunately we’re at 296 feet, so we’re still four feet shy. We’re hoping we can get some people from the city on our side so we can offer those kinds of drinks to our community,” said Mikaela Shafer, marketing and communications director for the Even Stevens corporate office in Sugar House.

House Bill 442 received final legislative approval March 8 and now awaits the governor’s signature. Among several things, the 168-page measure decreases the distance an alcohol-serving restaurant could have from a school, church or park from 600 feet to 300 feet — a distance equivalent to the length of a football field without the end zones.

Even Stevens — which operates six locations in Utah, three in Arizona and one in Idaho — donates a portion of its sandwich sales to local nonprofits to help feed food-insecure individuals and families. The downtown Ogden spot opened last April.

RELATED: New Ogden restaurant Even Stevens uses 'buy one get one' approach to help needy

However, the new proximity rule will benefit Even Stevens’ Logan store, so beer service there is a definite possibility, Shafer said. And in Sugar House, she said, owners were able to move the shop’s entrance to meet the required distance and are able to offer several Utah microbrewed beers. 

“I don’t think there’s a way to move our door in Ogden,” Shafer said. But she remained hopeful. “Miracles happen all the time. Maybe it will happen for us, but we won’t push too hard. We’re happy the community has supported us as much as they have.”

Rep. Justin Fawson, a Republican and Mormon from North Ogden, questioned whether proximity rules fulfill a valuable purpose.

“I appreciate Rep. (Brad) Wilson’s work on giving business owners some flexibility, but I don’t think what we have is data-driven,” Fawson said. “I don’t think it really matters to have 300 to 600 feet between schools and churches, just like I think it doesn’t matter if kids seeing alcohol served as opposed to consumed.”

Fawson referred to Utah’s so-called “Zion Curtain,” which HB 442 also relaxed. That 7-foot barrier was intended to shield minors from viewing the dispensing of adult beverages in restaurants. Under the new law, a 42-inch wall or 10-foot perimeter can take its place.

“It’s nice to create a buffer, but if we’re going to frequent those places with our kids, that’s the choice we make. And if we don’t want our kids in a bar, we don’t go there,” Fawson said of his preference to allow market forces to dominate. “I don’t see the point of over-regulating to save the children.”

Although the bill decreased the distance from 600 to 300 feet, it also removed any leeway the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control could exercise to grant variances.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, sponsor of HB 442, said that Ogden’s Even Stevens could either apply for a liquor license plus variance before the new law takes effect in May, or work with Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to make sure the restaurant is correctly measuring the distance.

“A significant number of states have a proximity requirement. Ours is very similar to New York’s,” Wilson said, referring to that more-populous state’s 200-foot requirement within the same block.

Reducing the distance makes sense as restaurants with bars have been “grandfathered” into various communities, Wilson said, and the reason for retaining such proximity rules stem from concerns that some harbor regarding minors and alcohol.

“There are some individuals, churches and schools that just don’t want alcohol served close to their establishments,” Wilson said. “That’s what I’ve been able to ascertain since I began working on this alcohol legislation.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck. 

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