County proposes permanent rules for temporary outdoor dining areas

Karé Bar in Chantilly has heaters to warm up its outdoor dining area (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Spurred by the pandemic, outdoor dining in Fairfax County is likely here to stay.

The county is considering a proposal to formalize standards and regulations for outdoor dining in parking areas that were first introduced during the pandemic.

The existing ordinance — which ends in March 2024 after the county concluded its state of emergency on March 1 — allows any existing restaurant, food court, brewery, winery, distillery or tasting room to provide outdoor dining without individual approval.

The county is moving to permit outdoor dining as an accessory use, but may not include permanent structures, according to a presentation by Lily Yegazu of the county’s Zoning Administration Division. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors discussed the draft proposal at a land use policy committee meeting on Tuesday (April 25).

Dining would be limited to 50% of the indoor dining area, with hours of operations matching the business’ hours. It would largely be restricted before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m. if the establishment is next to a single-family development.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted that few concerns about outdoor dining — including noise impacts — have surfaced since the pandemic.

“Very few [issues]…I can’t think of any, honestly, since this has been put into place,” McKay said, adding that outdoor dining is “more popular now than it ever was before the pandemic.”

Applicants would pay a one-time application fee of $205 to allow outdoor dining in parking areas.

Providence District Supervisor Dahlia Palchik suggested the county should clearly distinguish between what permanent and temporary structures are allowed.

Staff emphasized that businesses can still apply to create permanent outdoor areas like patios or permanent pergolas through the county’s permitting process. The current proposal simply creates a catch-all policy for outdoor dining.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn encouraged the county to find ways for outdoor seating that faces the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

“I think there certainly is customer interest,” Alcorn said.

Staff said the proposal is slated for public outreach meetings through the summer, tentatively followed by the board’s approval in the fall.