Vienna Town Council lets restaurants keep outdoor dining, but only on a temporary basis for now

Vienna restaurants that have set up outdoor dining spaces will be allowed to keep them for the next six months.

After formally extending an emergency ordinance to its last possible end date of Dec. 30, the Vienna Town Council unanimously approved an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance on Monday (Dec. 6) that enables businesses with temporary outdoor dining permits to continue those operations until June 30, 2022.

Councilmembers said they will use the extra six months to develop rules for permanently easing regulations around outdoor dining that balance the interests of businesses with potential concerns from neighbors, particularly related to noise and parking.

“This is a temporary measure while COVID is still a reality to help these businesses and help the residents a little bit,” Councilmember Ed Somers said. “But we would charge ourselves and the staff to work on these complicated and important issues. We’re not going to wait until June to restart this conversation.”

Applicable to any business that has obtained a permit by Dec. 31, the measure adds some conditions to the outdoor dining activities that have been allowed on an expanded basis since June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the revised ordinance, restaurants can continue to serve diners on an outdoor patio or in off-street parking spaces if they comply with the following rules:

  • Use no more than eight seats per parking space
  • For businesses with outdoor dining facilities within 60 feet of a residential property, limit occupancy to 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m-9 p.m. on Sundays, and 9 am-9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays

Those conditions are intended to address noise complaints raised at a public hearing on Nov. 15 by residents who live behind the Church Street restaurants Bazin’s and Blend 111.

Town staff initially presented a draft that applied the time limits to restaurants in 50 feet of a residential property line and allowed them to operate until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but the council questioned whether that would be sufficient.

“I’m trying to give a little reprieve for the neighbors there,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said. “…Even after people vacate the patio, there is going to be wait staff out there. They’re going to have to clean up. They’re still going to be making noise. So, keeping it to 10 is really saying we’re going to let noise until 10:30.”

Councilmember Steve Potter pushed for a provision requiring restaurants by residential properties to submit a noise abatement plan as part of the permitting process, but others said it would be too complicated to decide how to identify and enforce noise violations with a measure that will only last six months.

“The six months was to look at, ‘Do these two things help?'” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I think a noise mitigation plan would be very good, but I don’t know how that would be judged, and I don’t think we have those answers tonight.”

The council ultimately settled for a clause requiring acknowledgment of Vienna’s existing noise ordinance, including a prohibition on live entertainment without a conditional use permit.

Town staff proposed an ordinance in October that would permanently allow outdoor dining with administrative approval, streamlining a permitting process that typically requires public hearings and a $1,500 fee.

The draft gained the support of Vienna’s Planning Commission, but at last month’s public hearing, the town council decided it needed to take more time to work out details, such as criteria for when a permit should be approved and an appeals process.

Vienna has issued 22 temporary outdoor commercial activity permits while its emergency ordinance has been in effect, according to town staff.

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