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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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Green Hedges School (via Town of Vienna)

A private elementary school in Vienna has big plans for the future, but it needs the town’s permission to realize them.

Green Hedges School is looking to add a new gymnasium, playgrounds, and an athletic field on its 4.3-acre campus at 415 Windover Avenue NW. The proposed expansion will also involve renovations to the main school building and the demolition of “several smaller buildings,” according to the Town of Vienna’s summary.

With portions of the main building — known as Kilmer Hall — now close to 50 years old, Green Hedges officials believe the time has come to pursue upgrades, as the school nears its 80th anniversary.

“The time is now to update our facilities, just to get them ready for the next 80 years, as I like to say,” Head of School Jennifer Bohnen said. “So, that’s part of it, just to make sure that our facilities are the best they can be for our students and our faculty.”

According to Bohnen, the school hopes to add a second floor to Kilmer Hall and construct a separate gym building. Right now, indoor athletic activities are held in a multipurpose room that also hosts theatrical performances, music classes, and student assemblies.

Green Hedges School hopes to add a gym building, playground areas, and an athletic field (via Town of Vienna)

The proposed playground will replace equipment installed 20 years ago with a more “immersive,” hands-on facility “that is developmentally and age-appropriate” for all of Green Hedges’ students, who span toddlers to middle schoolers, Bohnen says.

“Our playground is going to feel much more natural, so it really fits in with the environment,” she told FFXnow, noting that the playground is planned instead of an underground recreational facility that was approved in 2017 but never built.

Buildings slated for demolition include a two-story residential house on Nutley Street and the school’s one-story Grace Hecker Rice Art Center, according to current and conceptual site plans submitted to Vienna.

Before any work can start, however, the school has to get the Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals’ approval to amend the conditional use permit that lets it exist in an otherwise entirely residential neighborhood.

Started in 1942 at its founders’ Arlington home, Green Hedges School relocated to its current site in Vienna’s historic Windover Heights district in 1955. It currently serves 190 students, starting at age 2 through eighth grade.

As part of the expansion project, the school is asking to bump up that enrollment cap, which has been in place since 1985, to 225 students. An increase in the 42 full-time employees allowed and additional parking spaces have also been requested.

The school can provide parking for up to 54 vehicles under an approved 2007 site plan, but it currently only has 48 spaces, according to the town.

“Green Hedges is thriving right now,” Bohnen said. “We’re in an all-time high with enrollment to amazing Vienna families, and…it’s an exciting time.”

The Vienna Planning Commission will discuss Green Hedges’ proposal during a work session at 6:30 p.m. today (Wednesday).

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The former Amphora Restaurant site in Vienna is going to be turned into The Maple Room (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

More than a year after it closed, it remains unclear exactly what kind of establishment will replace Vienna’s Amphora Restaurant, but the food will likely be served outside as well as indoors.

Developer Sarantis Properties, owner of the now-vacant building at 377 Maple Avenue, is seeking a conditional use permit to allow outdoor dining for a new restaurant called The Maple Room.

The Town of Vienna Planning Commission voted unanimously on Feb. 23 to recommend that the Board of Zoning Appeals grant the request, despite some misgivings related to previous outdoor dining approvals.

Sarantis Properties, which did not immediately return a request for comment, intends to completely renovate the existing 4,882-square-foot building, which was built in 1977 and has experienced few changes since then, Vienna Zoning Administrator Andrea West told the commission.

Planned changes include improvements to the parking lot and a dumpster enclosure, as well as the addition of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp at the back of the restaurant.

The developer also hopes to build a new 532-square-foot deck on the southwest side of the property that will have 42 seats for outdoor dining, three of them accessible to people with disabilities, if the permit is approved.

The restaurant will have an additional 170 seats inside.

“That includes bar seating, some banquet seating, booths, and then, tables with individual chairs,” West said.

A rendering of The Maple Room, a proposed restaurant that will renovate the former Amphora building (via Paramount Construction/Town of Vienna)

The planning commission received one public comment from a resident representing the Townes of Vienna community, who expressed concern about potential noise, parking, traffic and environmental impacts of allowing outdoor dining at the restaurant.

An engineer and architect involved with the project noted that Sarantis plans to screen the deck from residential neighbors behind the site with a green wall, and trees will be planted along the parking lot’s perimeter, though a site plan still needs to be submitted to the town’s Board of Architectural Review.

Unlike the relatively new Bear Branch Tavern and the British pub Hawk & Griffin, which both have outdoor dining patios, The Maple Room will not offer live entertainment, according to West.

She said the town’s zoning department hasn’t received any noise complaints about those restaurants since they opened in March 2020 and June 2021, respectively, but she didn’t know if police have gotten reports.

Planning Commission Vice Chair David Miller suggested the town should review its outdoor dining requirements, which are tied to the availability of parking spaces.

“Hawk & Griffin isn’t working,” he said. “People are flooding over into other businesses to park there, so we missed something. Our standards aren’t right or something.”

West said the 75 parking spots on the former Amphora site are more than enough to accommodate the 216 seats proposed for the new restaurant, exceeding the 54 spaces that are required.

The Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to issue the requested outdoor dining permit on March 16.

Rendering via Paramount Construction/Town of Vienna

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