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The plethora of residents who want more booze in 9th & 9th are going to have to wait longer after the city rejected a proposal to open a wine bar over a zoning problem.
The East Liberty neighborhoods surrounding the 9th & 9th business district have said they want more alcohol establishments in the popular neighborhood.
So when Will Hamill, co-founder of Uinta Brewing, pitched a wine bar for the eastern end of the main drag in 9th & 9th, it seemed like he had a winning business model.
“It’s a very low-key idea,” Hamill told appeals officers. “Yes, it’s alcohol, but it will be wine and it will be served til we thought about 9:30 to 10:00 p.m., when everything else closes down in the neighborhood, other than the ice cream shop.”
That is, until Salt Lake City zoning get involved.
Hamill’s request was denied because his building is about a block outside of the nearest commercial zone in the area. The case calls into question whether one of the city’s most popular business districts is meeting demand, and it’s a good time to put a spotlight onto existing zoning in one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods.
Let’s get into the details.
It’s always about zoning
It’s always good to remember that modern zoning in Salt Lake City is not that old.
Much of the city was rezoned in the mid to late 1990s, largely to exclude the types of two-family and multi-family housing that historically had been allowed in many more areas.
The patchwork of zoning in 9th & 9th was created sometime between 1995 and 2002, according to city documents. As with all other uses, zoning creates or removes the barriers for what current and future property owners can do with their properties.
The building at 1058 E. 900 S., where Hamill and partners planned to open the wine bar, was considered “non-conforming” with the existing zoning. That means whatever’s there isn’t allowed outright by the zoning, but it can continue to be used the same way until the use changes.
Hamill was making the case that his wine bar wouldn’t be a substantially different use than the salon and antique shop as far as impacts on the neighborhood, and instead highlighted how many people would welcome the idea.
“The policy questions are for the City Council, who writes the code,” said Craig Call, an attorney who serves on the Planning Division’s appeals board. “I’m just a guy from out of town.”
While it sits across the street from another restaurant serving alcohol on its patio, Hamill’s property is in residential zoning that abounds in the broader area referred to as 9th & 9th.
Instead it faces an uncertain future. Hamill told us he’s “not sure if I have enough time for a rezone,” of the property to allow for a business that serves alcohol in the retrofitted building, after his proposal was denied.
But why did this happen? And is it time to revisit the size of the 9th & 9th business district, or perhaps for the city to create more elsewhere?
Part of the issue is that when city staff review requests like this, it can’t or won’t bend the line to what is written in black and white on paper.
The property is zoned for residential uses and should be denied, the city determined, even if a majority of surrounding properties are commercial within residential zoning.
The other issue is just how little of area Salt Lake City’s current zoning for 9th & 9th explicitly allows businesses, bars and restaurants.
The south side of the street is zoned for Community Business (CB), which is small-scale and allows alcohol as a conditional use (with permission from the city). That zoning exists between 850 East and 950 East and is flanked by residential zoning to the east and west.
The north side of 900 South is zoned CB between 850 East and 1000 East. It then transitions to Residential Business, which allows for a small bar with city permission but not a brewpub or tavern.
What does the neighborhood think?
The neighborhood organization tried to lobby the city to approve the new bar. For good reason: so many people want more bars.
According to a survey from 2019, conducted by the East Liberty Park Community Organization, 83 percent of the respondents said they wanted more bars or brew pubs serving alcohol in 9th & 9th.
That makes sense: While a number of restaurants have a license to serve a limited amount of alcohol under the state’s asinine and arcane laws, there is just one bar in the neighborhood.
On top of state laws that don’t meet statewide demand for bar licenses, the problem for those who would welcome another bar in the neighborhood, as this decision shows, is that the 9th & 9th business district is very small.
“Of the 13 properties located on the block of 900 South between McClelland Avenue and 1100 East, nine properties (70%) are primarily businesses or offices,” ELPCO wrote in a newsletter.
“We recognize that an “Alcohol Bar Establishment” will have a heightened impact on the block than the antiques store that seemed permanently closed,” ELPCO wrote to the city.
But that would include foot traffic that would benefit from the majority-local businesses that benefit from addition feet on the ground through the neighborhood.
It seems time for the neighborhood, which is sufficiently organized and well-managed, to take a look at the zoning and determine whether it’s time for a wholesale change.
The existing zoning means that if new businesses want to open up shop along the main drag, they’ll have to wait until space opens in the CB or RB zones, or they’ll have to go through the lengthy and uncertain process of spot zoning a residential into a commercial one.
Without wholesale change, it leaves the question: Is it time to rezone more of 9th & 9th to allow more commercial, or does that have to happen elsewhere?
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