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Vienna’s plan for permanent outdoor dining in parking spaces gets Planning Commission support

Foster’s Grille has an outdoor dining area in the Vienna Shopping Center parking lot

The Town of Vienna has moved one step closer to permanently implementing the outdoor dining rules for restaurants that have been lessened temporarily due to the pandemic.

During the COVID-19 era, nearly two dozen businesses in the town have expanded their outdoor dining capacities by using parking spots, thanks to the relaxed rules.

Last Wednesday (Nov. 3), the town’s Planning Commission held a public hearing and recommended streamlining the permitting process for outdoor dining. Instead of getting Board of Zoning Appeals approval and paying a $1,500 fee, a restaurant would get yearly permits through an administrative review (subject to the Board of Architectural Review) and a $100 application fee.

No one from the public commented aside from the town’s economic development manager, Natalie Monkou, who expressed her support for the change.

“We did as a town pull together all of our resources to be able to support our businesses…but it allowed businesses to survive in a safe way,” she said of the emergency policy changes amid the pandemic. “I also think we have to consider the future of outdoor dining and outdoor spaces.”

Monkou suggested the town help restaurants know whether they could winterize outdoor spaces with appropriate furniture, heating, and other investments.

How the Parking Formula Would Work

The changes to the town’s code would mean a typical business could go through the administrative process and use up to 20% of its minimum parking spots needed for dining.

So, if a business needed to have 10 parking spots, it could use two spots for a dining area. If a property had extra spots beyond that minimum, that parking could also be used for dining, too.

For businesses along Church Street, which are covered by a distinct zoning ordinance known as the Church Street Vision, use of parking spaces would be approved by Town Council. For all areas, the outdoor dining spaces would still have to be able to be removed easily.

Previously, the town approved the emergency, temporary relief on June 1, 2020 and has extended the measure repeatedly. The ordinance is slated to expire Dec. 7, 2021 but can be extended up to Dec. 31.

Planning Commission Chair Stephen Kenney directed staff to continue surveying businesses about whether a 20% threshold was being used still. He suggested while that amount was necessary at the start of the pandemic, it might be more than what’s needed at this point.

The commission’s vice chair, David Miller, suggested the ordinance last for a limited time frame each year, such as from April 1 to Oct. 1 or Nov. 1, noting how snow and other weather can limit patrons’ enjoyment outside.

The town council will hold a public hearing on the matter on Monday (Nov. 15).

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