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Vienna poised to vote on new rules for outdoor dining

The Cedar Park Shopping Center’s patio is set up for outdoor dining (file photo)

An end is in sight for Vienna’s months-long debate over the future of outdoor dining in the town.

The Vienna Town Council intends to vote on May 11 on a new draft zoning ordinance that will permanently ease the permitting process for restaurants seeking to provide outdoor dining — with some limits in place to ward off conflicts over noise, parking, and other potential issues.

The planned vote will immediately follow a joint public hearing with the Vienna Planning Commission.

“We’ve kicked this item around a long, long time, and businesses need to know,” Mayor Linda Colbert said at a Town Council meeting on Monday (April 25), noting that if the ordinance is approved, it likely won’t be formally adopted until June 6.

The proposed ordinance would allow permanent outdoor dining at ground level or on a roof garden as an “incidental use” for restaurants, meaning it would be treated as part of their regular operations, like carryout services, rather than requiring a separate permit.

Plans for outdoor dining, including any tables, tents, and other exterior modifications, must still be reviewed by the town’s Board of Architectural Review as well as Fairfax County building code and fire marshal officials.

The new process will be similar to the temporary waivers that the town introduced in June 2020 to assist businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling restaurants to bypass the Planning Commission review, Board of Zoning Appeals approval, and $1,500 fee required for a conditional use permit.

The town issued waivers to 22 restaurants, including 13 that used parking lot spaces for their outdoor dining space. A total of 58 off-street parking spaces were being used for dining, as of October, according to town staff.

Vienna has been looking at easing its outdoor dining regulations long-term since last fall, but numerous residents raised concerns about noise levels and the availability of parking at a public hearing on Nov. 15, ultimately convincing the Town Council to extend the approved waivers until June 30 and postpone adopting permanent rules.

Proposed rules regulate seating, hours

The newly proposed ordinance contains more detailed regulations intended to address some of the community’s complaints. For instance, it prohibits outdoor dining within 75 feet of a property zoned and utilized for residential purposes.

It also sets a 12-seat limit on permanent outdoor dining. Any restaurant that wants to have more seats would need a conditional use permit.

Outdoor dining will be permitted in off-street parking on a seasonal basis between April 1 and Oct. 31. Those areas can occupy up to 20% of a restaurant’s required parking spaces, and they can be active during the following hours:

  • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday
  • 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday
  • 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday
  • 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday

For seasonal outdoor dining, restaurants will need a permit that’s reviewed and issued annually by the town’s zoning administrator, who has the power to revoke permits if there are violations.

Those seeking to have temporary outdoor dining are also required to notify all business owners within the same property or shopping center 30 days before they can get a permit approved.

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