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After much debate, Vienna settles on new outdoor dining rules

A few diners are seated on the patio behind Blend 111 on Church Street in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Outdoor dining is here to stay in the Town of Vienna — except at 111 Church Street NW.

The new regulations that the Vienna Town Council agreed to after a public hearing on Wednesday (May 11) are mostly straightforward, simplifying the permitting process for permanent and seasonal outdoor dining while setting clear standards for the number of seats allowed, operating hours, and other considerations.

However, in a change from the draft ordinance presented in April, the council voted 6-1 to allow outdoor dining within 60 to 75 feet of a residential property if the patio or tent meets certain conditions:

  • No alcohol served
  • No waitstaff or servers allowed
  • A maximum of eight seats
  • Hours of operation, including any time to set up or take down furniture, end at 7 p.m.

Town staff had proposed a prohibition on outdoor dining within 75 feet of residential properties. They said it would affect three of the 22 businesses where the practice is currently allowed under temporary measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Simply Social Coffee, Blend 111, and Bazin’s on Church.

The Vienna Planning Commission unanimously recommended the amendment, arguing that people drinking or eating outside at a cafe poses less potential for conflict between residents and businesses than at a sit-down restaurant.

Staff confirmed that the conditions would let Simply Social retain its outdoor seating, but not Blend 111 and Bazin’s, whose shared patio at the back of 111 Church Street has drawn numerous noise complaints from neighbors.

“That was supposed to be parking,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said of the restaurants’ outdoor dining area. “We’ve had major complaints, and they just seem to ignore it.”

While the restaurant owners said at a November public hearing that the patio has proven popular, becoming a “lifeline” during the pandemic, residents testified last week that the level of noise had become untenable.

Howard Uman and Theresa Ayotte, whose house is directly behind 111 Church Street, told the town council and planning commission that the noise remains “unacceptable,” even under a temporary ordinance established in December that limited the hours and number of seats for outdoor dining.

“We hear everything and anything that’s in our backyard,” Uman said. “I think there were only one or two people in there, and there was a kid back there screaming his head off and we could hear every single word, so it’s really intrusive.”

Councilmember Nisha Patel made what she called “a last-ditch attempt” to find a compromise between the residents and restaurants, proposing allowing outdoor dining within 75 feet of a residential property under more limited hours and requiring a conditional use permit for more than 12 seats.

Patel said she “would love to just side with the residents” but couldn’t ignore emails that the council has gotten supporting the restaurants, including one read by Mayor Linda Colbert from her predecessor, Laurie DiRocco.

“Noise is one of the things we get probably the most complaints about, but that’s also living in a community,” Colbert said, noting that the town still hears from people who only feel comfortable eating outside.

Colbert voted for Patel’s proposal, which failed on a 5-2 vote, as well as the final ordinance with the planning commission’s recommended amendment.

The town council will formally adopt the new outdoor dining ordinance on June 6, and it will take effect in July, after the current temporary ordinance ends. Businesses that currently have waivers for outdoor dining will have 60 days after the adoption to apply for new permits.

Blend 111 owner Michael Biddick confirmed to FFXnow that his restaurant’s outdoor patio will revert back to a parking lot.

“We are deeply saddened and shocked by the decision of the Vienna Town Council to eliminate our outdoor dining patio,” Biddick said by email. “For many, it is an essential location to enjoy dining safely and a bright spot from the devastating pandemic over the past two years. We regret that the Council did not consider a compromise solution that further limited the hours on the patio and other reasonable steps to mitigate noise concerns from residents living in a nearby home.”

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