Provo City Council asks the question: “To brew or not to brew?”

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The Provo City Council currently faces a dilemma between economic development and community values after residents requested a change in a land-use ordinance to allow brewery pubs to open shop downtown.

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Quinn Peterson, the neighborhood chair for downtown Provo, expressed to the council his and other business-owners’ desires to allow onsite brewing of beer. The current language of the ordinance for the land’s use only allows already packaged and shipped alcohol to be served. It does not allow onsite brewing of alcohol to be created or served.

Peterson said he was motivated to bring the issue before the city council because Provo has had a “history of interested businesses, and they’ve been turned away in the past.”

Peterson also said that the owners of MOZZ Artisan Pizza, Jared Neiswender and Erin Henriod, had conveyed they wanted to open a brewpub as a second business. Neiswender hoped that if the land-use ordinance would be changed “and the numbers pencil out as a viable business option,” they would open an equally successful business venture.

“This project is merely a sign of Provo’s growth and development. Our brewery would be one that will happily accommodate families and certainly people who do not even drink,” Neiswender said. “We are building a high-quality, food-focused restaurant group as exhibited through MOZZ and our consistently high ratings and reviews.”

Residents divided into two camps of opinion. Councilors and residents questioned if allowing an alcohol-focused restaurant to open up downtown would create more hazardous conditions for public safety. Those in support of the change argued that any other restaurant downtown would be allowed to serve similar quantities of alcohol because they imported their beer instead of brewing it onsite.

“Boutique beers are not and should not be the thing that makes Provo unique,” Provo resident Steve Christiansen said. “A person’s positive Provo experience shouldn’t be based on its variety of alcohol.”

He went on to remind the council and the Provo Planning Commission that Provo culture is different than the culture found in other American communities.

“Sure we’ll accept micro-breweries,” Christiansen said. “Awkwardly. Gracefully. But it’s not our culture.”

Other residents expressed concerns that adding another pub to downtown Provo would increase alcohol-related crimes. Provo resident Diane Christensen shared the personal tragedy that alcohol consumption caused her and her family nearly 40 years ago when her brother was killed in a car accident, even though the amount of alcohol the guilty party consumed was below the legal limit at the time.

She and other residents, as well as city councilors, discussed statistics of alcohol-related injuries and death as well as addiction.

“We are not talking about a tavern. We are not talking about a bar,” Council Chair George Handley said. “It’s not significantly different from a restaurant, but it is significantly different from a bar.”

Handley went on to ask why the proposal is requesting to brew onsite if they aren’t going to be allowed to serve more than the licensed amount of alcohol any other restaurant would serve.

Peterson said, “Part of the alarmist reaction has been the (word) alcohol.” He went on to explain that the micro-brewery would specifically sell craftsman beer only and not other alcohol products like wine or hard-liquors.

Handley and Councilor Dave Sewell both felt there to be a contradiction in the brewpub’s business goals and licensing limits of 70% food served versus 30% alcohol served. The brewpub would invest $100,000 in micro-brewing equipment and employ a brewer and expect a return on that investment. They both commented that the business would market for a higher rate of alcohol consumption as its specialty would be in unique beer flavors.

Residents and councilors expressed concern with making a micro-brewery the main attraction for Provo’s downtown. They commented that Provo is famous because of its association with Brigham Young University and remarked on the contradiction between a micro-brewery and BYU’s famous Stone-Cold Sober recognition that has lasted for 22 consecutive years.

Other residents came forward in support of the micro-brewery — some were Latter-day Saints while others were not. They wanted to invite an inclusive and welcoming environment for those visiting Provo or already living here who do consume alcohol.

In response to Christiansen’s earlier comments Provo culture being unfit for a brewert, Downtown Provo resident McKay Lenker said, “He thinks it should be like his home when I think we should be welcoming all types of homes.”

Peterson proposed the amendment to prevent people from feeling ostracized in the Provo community. He also hoped that the set-up of a microbrewery would fill a “void of tourism” that has separated Provo from other communities that include brewpubs.

Councilor Travis Hoban paraphrased remarks from President Joseph F. Smith in the 1911 October General Conference.

“The people who visit us want a micro-brewery and unless it is provided them, they will go somewhere else and instead of beholding and viewing the beauties of Provo, they will go and see everything that is not beautiful and that which is not good,” Hoban said, “like Springville.”

Neiswender echoed Hoban’s comment.

“When we are looking to go out for dinner and a drink, we always drive to Salt Lake City,” Neiswender said. “Frankly we are sick of sending money out of town.”

Peterson and other residents and business owners came forward to explain why a micro-brewery would benefit their conventions and business associations. Their concerns centered around the inability to entertain businesspersons. They said that Provo was not currently outfitted to entertain those with lifestyles differed from the cultural norm.

Scott Bowles, Provo resident and General Manager of Provo Towne Center, said, “I think the core issue here is the land use. Will it change who we are as a people? If the answer is yes? Then let’s consider this heavily. If the answer is no? Let’s approve and continue being who we are.”

The council decided they needed more research before coming to a final decision. Over the next few weeks, the council plans to poll Provo residents, local business owners and, potentially, visitors to the Provo area to collect enough data to understand the public’s mind on the issue.

The council will also gather safety and crime statistics from surrounding local governments who host brewpubs within their cities. They will reconvene on the proposed amendment change on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

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