Businesses in the Town of Vienna will now have more leniency for outdoor dining and other commercial activities until at least Sept. 1, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constrain indoor activities.
The Vienna Town Council unanimously voted last night (Monday) to extend an emergency ordinance temporarily waiving zoning regulations on outdoor commercial operations that was scheduled to expire on Mar. 31.
This is the fourth time that the council has adopted the ordinance, which enables the town manager to grant temporary permits to businesses so they can operate outside without necessarily meeting all of the town’s usual requirements.
Vienna first adopted the measure for a 60-day period on June 1, 2020 in recognition that “COVID-19 constitutes a real and substantial threat to public health and safety,” as stated in the ordinance, which was extended on June 15 to Sept. 30, 2020 and again on Aug. 31 to Mar. 31, 2021.
With scientific evidence suggesting that the novel coronavirus spreads more easily in enclosed, indoor settings, many restaurants and retailers pivoted to offering outdoor activities last summer so they could keep operating under capacity limits imposed by state guidelines. While Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam loosened some restrictions starting this month, dining establishments are still limited to 10 indoor patrons, and capacity for all businesses is limited by the need for at least six feet of social distancing.
Under the emergency ordinance, Vienna is waiving requirements in the Town Code related to business activities that occur “outside of a wholly enclosed building, use of onsite sidewalks, and required parking areas for outdoor commercial activity.” Town Manager Mercury Payton
Town of Vienna Director of Planning and Zoning Cindy Petkac told the town council on Monday that the town has issued temporary permits to 32 businesses so far.
While the extension was approved quickly, Councilmember Chuck Anderson noted that, with the weather about to warm up and public health restrictions easing as COVID-19 cases decline, town officials should start considering what to do once more people start spending time outside of their homes.
“As more and more people get the vaccine and people start going out, the demand for those parking spaces, which has been pretty low, is going to increase,” Anderson said. “I don’t have any good ideas myself right now. It’s just something I thought we should keep on the radar screen over the next several months.”
Mayor Linda Colbert agreed that the town will need to prepare for potential conflicts between businesses that want to maintain outdoor operations and drivers looking for parking, which tends to be a challenge to find along Maple Avenue.
“We’d all be happy to have that problem, I think,” Colbert said. “We want those restaurants to just be booming, but I agree. We should be looking forward and thinking about that.”
Photo via Vienna Business Association/Facebook