This week, Fairfax County businesses received clearance to continue outdoor dining, fitness, and exercise activities under social distancing rules with heated, enclosed tents this winter.
“Businesses have been able to install open-sided tents outside their storefronts since May, which allowed them to operate while maintaining proper social distancing and thus reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Fairfax County said.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Oct. 20 to approve an ordinance amendment that will allow this trend to continue this winter with tents that have sides and heaters both inside and outside of the tents.
Previous permit requirements for heaters from fire officials have been relaxed to make the process much easier.
Under Fairfax County’s ongoing emergency ordinance, permits are not required for tents unless they are 900 square feet or larger in size.
“If an individual tent or a collection of tents is more than 900 square-feet, it needs to go to the fire marshal for a permit,” Fairfax County director of planning and development Barbara Byron said. “There is no fee for that permit.”
Tents must be fire-resistant, and heaters need to be rated, but there are otherwise no requirements, Byron told the county board.
Fairfax County says it made the decision to relax the permitting process “to reduce the stress on businesses working to revitalize the county’s economy while allowing county staff to devote their limited resources to maintaining continuity in government instead of processing an excessive number of applications.”
According to the county, this ordinance will last up to six months after the Board terminates the local declaration of emergency, which was issued on Mar. 17 by the Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County director of emergency management.
The county board adopted an emergency ordinance on May 28 that temporarily allows businesses to conduct outdoor dining and outdoor fitness or exercise activities without having to go through the lengthy application process that is normally required.
The original ordinance only permitted tents with all sides open. It was extended on July 14.
Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce board chairman Andrew Clark applauded Fairfax County for recognizing the challenges that restaurants and other businesses could face as the weather gets colder and taking action before winter arrives.
“We appreciate the county for realizing the need at the moment and acting accordingly,” Clark said.
Clark says that, thanks to the increased flexibility for outdoor dining and other efforts to accommodate public health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants in the Tysons area have started to see improved business, particularly with the first-ever Tysons Restaurant Week.
“That’s happening because the way restaurants are approaching the situation. They haven’t dropped the ball. They’re adhering to all the guidelines,” Clark said. “So, I think from what the restaurants are doing to the guidance the government has given, it’s given a framework for people to safely engage.”
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