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Rules proposed to allow permanent outdoor dining in downtown Herndon

Town of Herndon government center (file photo)

Outdoor dining became a go-to option during the peak of the pandemic for downtown Herndon businesses, but it may not just be a thing of the past anymore.

The Herndon Town Council is considering a proposal to permit outdoor dining and seating in public areas. The move comes after temporary licenses to allow outdoor dining expired in November.

After the state and town declared a state of emergency, multiple downtown businesses took advantage of relaxed regulations — including those involving serving alcoholic beverages — to allow outdoor dining on sidewalks, parking lots, and on-street parking spaces.

Earlier this year, Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila asked staff to look into the issue.

The proposal formalizes how businesses operated during temporary regulations. Outdoor dining could be allowed in the public right of way, on-street parking spaces, and off-street, public shared parking spaces once applications are approved by staff.

Dining would only be allowed on unallocated spaces in public parking lots and would be limited to two on-street spaces in front of the businesses.

The proposal also has a list of other requirements intended to minimize the impact on parking and traffic safety. The change would only apply to Lynn, Pine, Station, and Center streets.

An annual application fee of $100 is required, with the maximum permit term lasting from March 15 through Oct. 31.

At a meeting on Tuesday (April 19), Herndon Zoning Administrator David Stromberg said businesses would also be required to pay $10 per square foot of affected public space — a number selected based on how other jurisdictions have handled the issue.

Mayor Sheila Olem said some non-restaurant-related businesses are concerned about a possible shortage of parking spots.

Stromberg emphasized that the ordinance is written in a way that would not allow a large number of parking spots to be eligible for outdoor dining. On average, each business could utilize around two parking spaces.

Staff noted that the town must also consider what is the best use of public property — dining, rideshare, parking, or food pickup and deliveries. Businesses would have to reapply annually.

Del Aguila also encouraged town staff to step up enforcement of parking limits in the downtown area.

“We really need enforcement in the downtown area,” he said.

Councilmember Jasbinder Singh said he was concerned outdoor dining would impact pedestrian accessibility. He suggested considering further limits on outdoor dining, such as the time of day.

Others said that the ordinance — which may include design requirements like adequate drainage —  may be too cumbersome for businesses to follow.

“This is crushing them in regulation because it makes it a much more challenging decision for the business owner to do,” said Councilmember Sean Regan.

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