Despite LDS Church silence, DABC gives restaurant a beer license

Posted at 4:03 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-26 20:34:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has approved a beer license for a St. George restaurant after months of controversy surrounding whether the LDS Church can remain silent on liquor license applications.

The commission reversed itself after rejecting La Frontera's application in June, when commissioners deadlocked along drinking lines. At that meeting, two of the known drinkers on the DABC commission voted for it, two of the non-drinkers voted against it. In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the DABC Commission approved the license for La Frontera, located near a chapel.

Under Utah law, if a restaurant wishes to serve liquor and it's located less than 600 feet from a church, school, park or other community location, that entity gets to give approval or rejection. If the answer is no, it triggers higher hurdles the DABC commission must consider -- such as whether a community need is unmet.

A map showing La Frontera in St. George and its proximity to an LDS chapel. (Image by Russ Slade, FOX 13 News)

A map showing La Frontera in St. George and its proximity to an LDS chapel. (Image by Russ Slade, FOX 13 News)

The issue in this case is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints elected to remain silent. It has also declined to weigh in on a liquor license application from Even Stevens, a sandwich shop that wants to serve alcohol at its store across the street from the LDS Church's Logan Tabernacle. The DABC commission used to view silence as tacit approval, but reversed that position in recent months.

The DABC's viewpoint on LDS Church silence brought some criticism at Tuesday's meeting.

"In America, I always figured without participation you don't have a voice," Jay Yahne, the owner of the Hive Winery, told the DABC Commission. "If I don't vote, I don't have a voice. It seems like they're not voting and they shouldn't have the voice we gave them."

This time, La Frontera asked for a beer-only license, and DABC Compliance Director Nina McDermott made a case that the entity cleared the hurdles. She also pointed to customers who rallied around La Frontera.

"Patrons have been the ones requesting alcohol," McDermott said. "We had a big stack of petitions. It's really what patrons want."

DABC Commissioner Amanda Smith renewed her motion to approve the license application. After the vote, Commission Chairman John Nielsen defended the LDS Church, pointing out it is "under no obligation" to speak up.

"I think that will probably be a continuing issue," Nielsen told FOX 13 of the LDS Church's silence on liquor license applications near its chapels. "But I think we understand now that no consent is no consent."