The Mesa City Council quietly voted this week to reverse the city’s long-standing rule against bars in its most common zoning category.
So quietly, in fact, that Mayor Keno Hawker didn’t realize what he was doing.
Bars, cocktail lounges and other alcohol-serving businesses not attached to restaurants now can open in "limited commercial" districts if they get a council use permit.
The ordinance was approved 7-0 at Tuesday’s council meeting on its consent agenda, a parliamentary device used for issues not considered contentious enough to warrant separate council discussion.
Hawker said he would have removed it from the consent agenda had he known it was there. However, he said he thinks his would have been the only opposing vote.
"I only get calls from residents when the building in their neighborhood that they thought was going to be a Circle K or a hardware store turns out to be a bar that serves hard liquor," he said.
Previously, bars were restricted under the Mesa city code to areas zoned for industrial or general commercial uses. Restaurants, which qualify for a different kind of license from the state liquor board if they make at least 40 percent of their money through food sales, can serve alcohol in C-2, or "limited commercial" areas. This is the most common commercial zoning category in the city.
The council voted to allow bars to open in areas with "limited commercial" zoning, as long as they also get a council use permit, which requires a separate vote by the council.
The state gets a recommendation from a city or town council before granting a liquor license.
Some may presume Mesa’s restrictive regulations on bars is influenced by its Mormon heritage, but the only council member voicing an objection to the change is Hawker, a non-Mormon.
Vice Mayor Claudia Walters, one of two current Mormon council members, said she feared changing the ordinance would clear the way for bars to spread throughout the city. But she felt requiring the additional step of a council use permit would lessen that risk.
Councilman Rex Griswold said these votes probably won’t become common, because liquor licenses for bars cost more than $100,000.
"There isn’t going to be a big land rush to do this," he said.