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Vienna to consider keeping eased outdoor dining regulations

Vienna Inn’s outdoor dining tent

The tents and patios for outdoor dining that have popped up in shopping center parking lots around Vienna could be here to stay.

The Town of Vienna is now considering whether to permanently adopt the more relaxed permitting process that enabled restaurants to set up outdoor dining spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under a zoning ordinance amendment proposed by town staff, restaurants would be able to obtain a permit for outdoor dining through an administrative review instead of the existing conditional use permit process, which involves a planning commission review, approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals, and a $1,500 fee.

The change will help restaurants not just by speeding up the process, but also by giving them the security to invest in more durable tents, seating, heaters, and other equipment, Vienna Business Association President Peggy James says.

“I think this will be key to business and restaurant survival,” James said, noting that while indoor dining has picked up recently, many people likely won’t feel comfortable eating inside in public for a long time.

The Vienna Town Council first approved the current emergency ordinance waiving certain regulations on outdoor commercial activities on June 1, 2020.

The ordinance has been extended several times since, but after Gov. Ralph Northam let Virginia’s state of emergency expire on June 30, the town won’t be able to keep the measure in place past its Dec. 30 end date.

Vienna has approved outdoor dining set-ups for 22 restaurants during the pandemic, according to town staff.

While the emergency ordinance included other activities, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment is specifically for outdoor dining. It will let restaurants serve diners at ground level outside their building with the following conditions:

1. Outdoor dining may only be allowed with issuance of a permit after plans showing proposed dining are submitted to the Zoning Administrator for review.

a. To-scale plans shall show location of any outdoor dining furniture or structures.
b. All permanent structures and permanent exterior modifications shall be subject to review by the Board of Architectural Review. Permanent changes may also be subject to Site Plan Control Provisions under Article 25.

2. Outdoor dining furniture and equipment cannot block pedestrian access or interfere with ADA accessible routes to and from buildings and public facilities.

3. Outdoor dining area must be clearly delineated by cordon, marking, or other means and must be protected from vehicular traffic to the extent possible.

4. Parking spaces located directly outside a restaurant may be used for outdoor dining with a temporary permit to be reviewed and issued annually by the Zoning Administrator. Such use of parking spaces are subject to the following conditions:

a. No more than 20% of the required off-street parking for a restaurant may be utilized for outdoor dining. Additional spaces may be allocated for restaurants located with buildings developed under Sections 18-87.4 and 18-87.5 after review by the Zoning Administrator.
b. Outdoor dining cannot be located in any designated fire lanes.
c. Only non-permanent structures, such as tents, are allowed to take up said parking spaces and parking spaces must be able to be easily converted back to be used for parking.
d. No ADA accessible parking spaces may be used for outdoor dining

The town council is scheduled to request a Nov. 15 public hearing on the proposed amendment when it meets tonight (Monday).

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