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Herndon to conduct pilot program on lowering outdoor dining fees

Aslin Beer Company in downtown Herndon (staff photo by James Jarvis)

The Town of Herndon will look into lowering how much restaurants and other businesses pay for using public space to host temporary outdoor seating.

Zoning Administrator David Stromberg gave an update on current zoning regulations, which have been on the books for two years, during a Herndon Town Council work session last Tuesday (May 7).

Outdoor dining gained popularity during the pandemic, when restaurants faced indoor capacity restrictions. After phasing out temporary licenses in 2021, the town council amended the town code in April 2022 to permanently let private businesses provide outdoor dining on public property, such as sidewalks and on-street or shared parking spaces.

A town ordinance charged businesses $10 per square foot — a rate chosen based on how much other localities charge.

“At the time this ordinance was adopted, only a few other localities had established an outdoor seating program, and the three that were reviewed (Arlington, Alexandria, and the District of Columbia), charged rates higher than $10.00 per square foot for use of public property,” town staff said in a memo for last week’s work session.

According to staff, the town has gotten two applications from establishments seeking to create seasonal outdoor dining spaces since the ordinance was adopted, but no permits have received final approval.

During a work session in April, the council requested that staff look into lowering the fee to $7.50 per square foot per term. However, when they met last week, council members agreed to conduct a pilot program allowing up to four parking spaces for outdoor dining at $1 per square foot for the first two spaces and $5 per square foot for the next two spaces.

Councilmember Cesar del Aguila supported dropping the fee to $1 per square foot, highlighting potential economic impacts.

“People like outdoor dining. We want to give people a reason to come to Herndon,” he said. “We need the revenue.”

Del Aguila also cited the permanent loss of the Herndon Festival, announced in December, as another reason to make the change.

“We need to start branding ourselves for other cool things to experience in Herndon. This is just one of them,” Del Aguila said.

Councilmember Donielle Scherff recommended creating an ad hoc committee of businesses to discuss the best ways to implement outdoor dining.

“I think that there should be everyone together or several opportunities for several folks to be together because collaboration is key,” she said.

The town council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed $7.50-per-square-foot rate for outdoor dining in public spaces during its meeting tomorrow (Tuesday). But no vote is expected, since the council opted to move forward with the pilot program instead.

The pilot will be conducted through Sept. 30. Scherff said the goal is to have a recommendation by next year.