Two Restaurants Denied Liquor Licenses Because Locations Too Close To LDS Property
A Utah law, called the proximity to a community location provision, states businesses can’t sell liquor within 600 walking feet of any community location whether that’s a park, a school or a church. The only way a business can serve liquor within the area is if they get written permission from that governing authority, like the school board, city or the church involved.
That’s the case for two restaurants, La Frontera in St. George and Even Stevens in Logan. These businesses were denied liquor licenses last week because of this state law that says one was too close to the Logan Tabernacle and the other too close to a Mormon church, which are both properties of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Until recently, the LDS Church hasn’t been vocal about many liquor license requests. But church officials have informed the DABC that the LDS Church’s silence isn’t tacit approval. Or in other words, just because church representatives haven’t explicitly spoken out against the liquor license requests, it shouldn’t be assumed by the DABC that the LDS Church approves of the applications.
The following is part of the transcript from DABC meeting from June 24.
"These have proximity issues," John Nielson, DABC chairman said during a DABC commission meeting on May 24. "They have proximity issues with the LDS Church or facilities." "I thought there was going to be an opportunity," said Even Steven official, Michael McHenry. "Times before, we have given license thinking that because the church was silent, it meant that they were not opposed," said Shiela Page with the DABC. "So this is something new." "It is my understanding that they made it very clear to us that the fact that they say nothing does not imply neutrality or agreement," Nielson said. "It's a trigger to the higher bar." "Even Stevens was under the impression that the no comment was more out of neutral position," McHenry said.
Other states have similar laws regarding how close liquor can be sold to a church, including Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Illinois and New York state, among others. However, these other state laws typically have shorter liquor license restrictions than Utah’s 600-foot provision.
Senator Curt Bramble is the head of the Utah Senate Business and Labor Committee, which decides the state’s liquor license laws.
“There are restrictions and it’s a controlled substance, in that Utah has one of  states that are control states where the state controls the distribution directly through the state liquor stores,” he said.
Bramble said Utah isn’t the only state with strange liquor license laws.
“If you Google 'strange liquor laws,' Utah may make the top ten in some studies,” Bramble said. “But every state has their own unique twist on how they address the number of the problems that come with alcohol.”
The current law passed in 2010, along with other Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control laws in Utah, but the overall idea of restricting alcohol sales near churches has been around for much longer than that.
The debate about proximity to schools and churches has been raging in Utah for longer than Bramble has been in office, he said.
“The real question is how you find the balance,” he said.
Bramble said he has advice for those who are trying to get a liquor license in the state of Utah.
“You need to understand what the laws require prior to concluding your decision to move forward,” he said.
Michael Purdy, director of government relations for the LDS Church saidthe Mormon church's interest in alcohol policy is to support legislation that advances the safety and well-being of all residents.
“Particularly minors, and to avoid the societal costs and harms that often result from alcohol excess consumption and abuse, underage drinking and DUIs,” he said in an email.
If businesses don’t receive written permission from the governing authority--whether it's a church, city council or school board--they have to prove to the DABC that there is an unfulfilled need to sell liquor in that area, which could happen in the next month for La Frontera and Even Stevens.