Theresa Ayotte likes outdoor dining as a general concept, but her support wavers when those diners sound like they’re hanging out in her backyard.
Ayotte’s house sits behind the complex at 111 Church Street that contains Blend 111 and Bazin’s on Church, two of the 22 restaurants that have taken advantage of Vienna’s temporarily relaxed rules for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She and her husband Howard Uman were among several Wilmar Place NW residents who urged the Vienna Town Council to limit outdoor dining for restaurants next to residential properties at a public hearing on Monday (Nov. 15) about making the simpler permitting process permanent.
“The noise from dining is intrusively loud and constant,” Ayotte told the town council. “…We have tolerated it for the past 18 months as our way of supporting the community during the pandemic, but we are totally opposed to it becoming a permanent fixture in our neighborhood.”
The town council agreed to postpone a vote on outdoor dining until its next meeting on Dec. 6 so they can discuss lingering questions about the zoning ordinance amendments, including how to address potential conflicts over issues like noise and parking.
“I have no issue at all with outdoor dining when backed up against commercial,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said. “I think when you’re backed up against residential, we do need to listen to the residents, but we also do need to support our businesses, and I do think there’s room for compromise.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Town of Vienna required a conditional use permit for outdoor commercial activities like food service, a roughly three-month-long process involving a $1,500 fee and reviews by both the planning commission and board of zoning appeals.
First proposed on Oct. 11 and supported by the planning commission earlier this month, the new ordinance would let restaurants use a patio, roof garden, or off-street parking spaces for outdoor dining with just a review by a zoning administrator.
The outdoor dining spaces would still need to meet certain conditions, primarily related to maintaining accessibility for pedestrians and people with disabilities, and all furniture and tents must be approved by the Vienna Board of Architectural Review.
Dining areas in parking lots have to be set up so that they could easily be converted back into parking, and restaurants would be limited to 20% of their required spaces, though businesses on Church Street could utilize more spaces with the town council’s approval.
“Some of the restaurants within the Church Street Vision buildings, they have a different parking standard, so 20% of their required parking is, in some cases, one parking space,” Vienna Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Michael D’Orazio explained. “You’re not able to utilize that very well.”
While much of Monday’s nearly two-hour public hearing focused on the Wilmar Place residents’ noise concerns, council members, restaurant owners, and even some of those residents expressed appreciation for the expanded availability of outdoor dining during the pandemic. Read More
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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).
The tents and patios for outdoor dining that have popped up in shopping center parking lots around Vienna could be here to stay.
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).
Urban Plates at Tysons Galleria is no more.
An anonymous tipster alerted Tysons Reporter to the healthy-eating restaurant’s closure yesterday (Tuesday), and a company spokesperson confirmed in an emailed statement that it is indeed permanent:
Urban Plates has made the very difficult decision to close our Tyson’s Galleria location so we may focus energy on growing and supporting our West Coast restaurants. We know this is sad news…for us, for our locals who dined with us, and of course our team members. We trust that our fans understand we would only choose to close a location if it was the right decision for the greater Urban Plates family long term. Decisions like these allow us to continue to make the quality, craveable, affordable food our guests count on us to deliver.
When asked by Tysons Reporter, the spokesperson added that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was a factor in Urban Plates’ decision to focus on its West Coast restaurants.
Primarily based in California, Urban Plates opened next to Saks Fifth Avenue at Tysons Galleria on July 16, 2018, making that its first East Coast franchise. Since then, the company added restaurants in Columbia and Bethesda, Maryland, both of which have now also been shuttered.
With a menu of sandwiches, soups, salads, and meat-based dishes, the restaurant emphasizes its use of healthy, sustainable ingredients, a reputation that made it the lunch of choice for three former presidents on Inauguration Day earlier this year.
Bigger changes are in store for Tysons Galleria, as work continues on a redevelopment of the mall’s former Macy’s space, which is being subdivided to accommodate a movie theater, a bowling alley, and other new retailers.
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After three years of business, Mo:Mo House has announced it will close on Saturday, August 28.
Located at 131-A Maple Avenue West, the family-run Nepalese restaurant opened in 2018 and is owned by Chef Shambhu Basnet and Shanta Basnet. Together, they created and shared dishes from their homeland, including the eponymous momo dumplings.
Tysons Reporter was unable to get in contact with Mo:Mo House before press time, but their Facebook post announcing the closure read:
With heavy hearts, we want to inform you that Mo:Mo House will permanently close its doors on 28 August, 2021.
We want to thank you, our amazing customers, for your unwavering support over the years, through thick and thin. We feel very fortunate for having known you, your family and friends. We’ve made many great friends, had a lot of fun times, and shared many life stories. We will always be grateful for having been a part of your lives.
Again, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU! Thank you for your support and patronage.
Please take care and stay safe!
— The Mo:Mo House Family
Mo:Mo House has become a beloved family-friendly restaurant in Vienna, which is apparent in the comments on its Facebook post.
One Vienna resident wrote, “Your restaurant is our number one family favorite and we will really miss you. Thanks so much for the beautiful memories you have offered to our family. Best wishes to your wonderful family.”
The restaurant was recognized for its customer service by the inaugural #ViennaUnited Virtual Business Awards that the Town of Vienna Economic Development Office organized last year to encourage residents to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mo:Mo House acknowledged the outpouring of goodwill that followed its closure announcement.
“Thank you, everyone!” the restaurant wrote on Facebook. “It has been so overwhelming to see all these comments and to think about all of the moments spent with you all. We’ve gotten to know each and every one of you so closely over these past few years. If nothing else, we are taking a lot of fun memories with us that will last a lifetime. Hope to stay in touch with you!”
Mo:Mo House is open for take-out from 4-8 p.m. until Aug. 28. Orders can be made by calling 571-459-2614.
The McDonald’s at the Pan Am Shopping Center just outside of Vienna has closed.
Located at 3091 Nutley Street, the fast-food chain shared a standalone building in the shopping center with what used to be a Capital One Bank, though that space at 3095 Nutley has been vacated as well.
Neither McDonald’s nor Federal Realty, which owns the Pan Am Shopping Center, returned a request for comment on exactly when the location shuttered and what led to the closure.
Both 3091 and 3095 Nutley Street are now listed as available for leasing on Federal Realty’s webpage for the shopping center.
McDonald’s announced in July 2020 that it was permanently closing 200 stores, most of them in Walmarts. The move focused on “low-volume restaurants” and was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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