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Falls Church considers making some relaxed business restrictions permanent

The City of Falls Church government is grappling with whether to let restrictions eased on businesses over the last year stay permanent, be reverted entirely, or somewhere in between.

At a work session yesterday (Monday), Planning Director Paul Stoddard walked the city council through the options that are currently being considered.

“[The recommendation] is to keep temporary allowances in place until the business community at large has more time to understand how business is going to resume as the economy comes out of the pandemic and things get back to the new usual,” Stoddard said. “Is it going to look like things were before the pandemic? During the pandemic? Some blend of the two?”

Three of the biggest temporary changes that went into effect last year are:

  • Allowing for additional signs and banners to support carry-out operations
  • Permitting carry-out orders where not otherwise allowed
  • Repurposing surface parking spaces to be used as outdoor dining areas

According to Stoddard, there are three longer-term solutions being considered.

The first is a “No Build” option where the city would revert back to pre-pandemic restrictions, though Stoddard said he thought it unlikely that city leadership would see that as the right approach.

The other extreme is by-right allowance, which would allow businesses taking advantage of the loosened restrictions to continue to do so in perpetuity.

Stoddard says this could bring its own problems, though, potentially complicating the city’s parking minimums and raising questions about how the by-right allowances would exist alongside new and proposed uses.

The third option — and the one Stoddard said staff is likely to recommend — is utilizing special use permits (SUPs). Stoddard said SUPs are already used for a variety of unconventional uses, and the application process gives the city the right to approve them on a case-by-case basis, with potential for staff to implement site-specific measures.

For now, city staff recommends that the current lax provisions be extended through January 2022, allowing businesses to take full advantage of outdoor seating through the fall and without any legislative change getting lost in the muddled holiday schedules in November and December.

Stoddard said the extra time will also help the city figure out what the long-term economic situation will look like for local businesses as more people get vaccinated.

Councilmember Debbie Hiscott agreed, saying that the city’s economic recovery is not up to a healthy level just yet.

“Business revenue is going in the right direction, but it’s not there yet,” Hiscott said.

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