Provo city leaders narrowly voted last Tuesday to allow breweries in parts of the downtown area, sparking a broader debate over the changes residents want to see. And two days later, opponents of the decision filed a referendum to put the issue to voters.
“Whenever you're dealing with alcohol, it's a sensitive topic,” said Travis Hoban, a city councilman who voted in favor of the measure.
Alcohol is already sold in Provo restaurants, grocery stores and state liquor stores, Hoban said, so allowing restaurants to brew their own beer in a few commercial and downtown zones wouldn’t be a seismic shift.
But for former city councilwoman Kim Santiago, the move could affect the city’s quality of life. Most of all, she said, she’s concerned about the possibility that downtown breweries could lead to more drinking, especially among young people.
“I feel like we have to be careful about what we invite and what we embrace into our community, she said. “Is it going to bring health, safety and welfare? Or is it going to bring problems?”
Hoban said he didn’t come across any evidence to suggest that breweries contribute to public health and safety issues, such as increased public intoxication or DUIs. He said he spoke with police chiefs across Utah and nearby states, who told him they didn’t see issues arising from newly-allowed breweries in their cities.
On the other hand, he said he did find evidence that they could have a positive economic impact.
“From my perspective, it's a way to accommodate economic growth and accommodate those who might have a different lifestyle or preference while at the same time it has limited downside,” he said.
Shannon Ellsworth, a city councilwoman who also voted in favor of the measure, said she felt the debate stemmed in part from fears over the region’s growth. Utah County is expected to grow more than any other part of the state.
“Every community on the Wasatch Front is growing and changing and Provo is not exempt from that.“ she said.
Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said she sees both sides and did not specify where she stands on the issue.
“While I recognize there are two sides to the present issue, mostly I’m feeling grateful that underneath it all is this impressive concern for the fabric of our community, one that is so uniquely special to my neighbors and me,” she wrote.
If enough signatures are gathered, residents will be able to vote on the issue in November. The city also needs to adopt beer licensing regulations before a restaurant could start brewing.
Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon