Liquor licenses may soon be allowed near churches and schools downtown

Courtesy of Anna Darian
Courtesy of Anna Darian

Businesses with liquor licenses may soon be permitted within 300 feet of churches due to a proposed ordinance change that, if approved, would bolster the entertainment district created for downtown by City Council earlier this year.

The plan was presented to the Central City Planning Committee on Monday to go over these proposed changes, which would require businesses to still be granted exemptions by City Council.

By law, within the United States, businesses that primarily sell liquor cannot be within 300 feet of a church or school.

In 2010 a law was passed that said that cities could not zone where churches or schools may go, said Anna Darian, a project management assistant for the city’s community and economic development department. This creates a problem for the city with charter schools and churches popping up in places causing those 300-foot boundaries to overlap with liquor businesses, Darian said.

These overlaps have caused problems for development downtown.

“We are running into issues from an economic development standpoint,” Darian said. “Businesses that would go through all the processes, spend all this money, all of a sudden can’t get their liquor license. That’s a big bummer for businesses.”

There is a state law that allows an exemption to be made to that national law if a city has adopted an entertainment district. City Council would then have to give exemptions on a case-by-case basis. The Economic Development Department worked heavily with the city council to determine the lines of the entertainment district. After gaining the approval from the city council, the business would then still need to apply for a liquor license, according to Central City Village Planner Katherine Coles.

Coles explained what happens to a business that tries to get the exemption, but fails to do so:

“If the business cannot get the exemption, they are dead in the water,” she said. “They will have to find another location.”

Darian said any city in Arizona is allowed to make these changes as long as they increase the additional layer a business would go through to get the exemption.

“This is something that the state has granted within the statutes, so any city in the state can go for this as long as they have a designated area,” she said. “You can put different rules on it, an added public process to make sure there is some kind of guidelines on how the area is used.”

Eva Olivas, the chair for the Central City Village Planning Committee, was in full support after a few questions regarding how businesses would be granted exemptions. All other members of the committee were supportive of the proposed zoning ordinance change as well.

The Central City Village Planning Committee passed the proposed change unanimously. The proposed zoning ordinance change will be considered by the Planning Commission on Dec. 8. If it is recommended by the Planning Commission, it will move on to City Council for final approval.

Contact the reporter at