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The county is considering ways to preserve dark skies around the observatory (via Fairfax County Government)

An effort is underway to preserve the dark skies around the Turner Farm Park Observatory in Great Falls.

To reduce light pollution in the area, Fairfax County is considering amending zoning standards for outdoor lighting within one-half mile of the observatory, which is located at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Springvale Road.

The observatory has several telescopes and a former National Defense Mapping Agency observation tower. Since the spring of 2018, the facility has served more than 3,700 people with educational programming.

Changes would largely impact residential development — roughly 500 properties — surrounding the observatory.

So far, county staff indicate that residents appear split about possible changes to the zoning rule. An official proposal expected in the winter of this year.

“Comments received in support of additional regulations expressed that the amendment would be an important and valuable step in protecting dark skies and the use of the observatory,” staff said in a memo. “Comments in opposition indicated that additional regulations are not needed, and concerns were expressed about several issues, including safety and security, and whether additional regulations within ½ mile of the observatory would be meaningful, given the overall light pollution of the area.”

The county held a public meeting on the issue on Monday (Sept. 19). Residents and community organizations offered feedback on the existing conditions near the observatory and possible changes that could affect properties within a one-half-mile radius of the observatory.

Representatives for the Fairfax County Police Department noted that proper lighting is a deterrent for criminal activity, but overnighting and uplighting are not required to facilitate a safe environment.

The Great Falls Citizen Association held the first official public meeting on the issue on March 24. The association has historically supported efforts to preserve the area’s dark skies.

“Because this proposed amendment involves a unique set of circumstances, GFCA is in the process of evaluating the County’s preliminary concepts on the amendment and considering its impact on the community, following two Town Hall sessions GFCA hosted,” Peter Falcone, a spokesperson for the association, wrote in a statement.

The observatory is also working toward becoming an official urban night sky place from the International Dark Sky Association.

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Reston Town Center on a sunny day (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

After more than 50 meetings, Fairfax County will present draft amendments to Reston’s comprehensive plan at public meetings this fall, advancing the first major update to the planning document since 2015.

The process kicked off in 2020 to determine how new development will impact the community, public infrastructure and growth-related issues. Reston has seen more than 50 rezoning applications since the last update in 2015, prompting concerns about growth management.

At a media briefing today (Wednesday), Hunter Mill District Alcorn noted that the update covers all of Reston, unlike previous plans that addressed only parts of it.

“This is one Reston. This is all of Reston,” Alcorn said.

The new plan will go to the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Nov. 2, followed by a vote by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6.

A 31-member community task force approved draft recommendations on Aug. 28 after 58 public meetings. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn convened the task force after he took office in 2020.

Some controversial topics — like granting a developer more density for providing more community benefits — remain unresolved. A county-led subgroup is studying the issue, according to Alcorn. It’s unclear if the provision will make to to the final report.

Rather than broadly limiting, restricting or expanding development, the plan makes site-specific changes to a limited number of areas. 

In Town Center North, where land is jointly owned by the county and Inova, the plan suggests limiting residential development to Inova-owned property and a maximum of 1,000 residential dwelling units. In the same area, nonresidential development would be limited to 150,000 square feet. County-owned land would be reserved for civic uses with some retail.

Near a proposed extension of South Lakes Drive and north of the Dulles Toll Road, the draft calls for redevelopment. In the Roland Clarke Place neighborhood, a provision for public uses was added in an area currently planned for about 75% residential and 25% non-residential development.

Affordable housing — one of Alcorn’s priorities — remains unchanged outside of Reston’s transit station areas. But within the TSAs, the proposed language recommends setting aside at least 12% of residential units as affordable housing.

For proposals with high density — 1.0 floor-area ratio or above — an increased proportion of affordable housing is expected, although no specific numbers are cited. Overall, rental rates for Workforce Dwelling Units within the TSAs target mostly 71 to 90% of the area media income.

“It’s still one element that’s out there,” Alcorn said. 

Additionally, the draft report leaves language on preserving Reston’s two golf courses untouched, though a study group recently argued that change is needed at the Reston National Golf Course. 

Alcorn acknowledged that more open space is needed in Reston. The plan calls for indoor and outdoor cultural activities, community gathering spaces, and enhanced public art.

It also embraces a multimodal transportation system, along with placemaking guidance in transit-oriented areas.

The plan covers 14 areas based on the seven guiding principles championed by Reston founder Robert E. Simon. New topics include a community health chapter with categories like food systems, active living, social cohesion and health care services.

An equity chapter builds on the county’s One Fairfax policy to remove barriers that “perpetuate injustice in our society” and build a more “inclusive economy,” according to St. Clair Williams, a senior planner with the county’s Department of Planning and Development.

Similarly, the planning principle of economic development is consistent with the county’s policies, but the recommendations are simply “aspirational,” Williams noted.

He noted that public meetings will continue through September with stakeholders before the planning commission’s official review.

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Rajdhani Mandir is seeking to build a community center (via Rajdhani Mandir/Facebook)

A Hindu temple in Chantilly is seeking the county’s permission to build a community center across the street from its main religious temple.

The team behind the Rajdhani Mandir has filed an application with the county to construct a community building on a 10-acre site across the road from the existing temple building at 4525 Pleasant Valley Road.

The 13,600-square-foot building will include a hall for 300 occupants, a kitchen, two guest suites, an outdoor terrace and a caretaker apartment. 

“Once constructed, the community center site will retain significant open space left in its natural state,” attorney William Lawson, Jr. wrote in the Aug. 14 application.

Intended to serve Hindu residents of Fairfax, Prince William, and western Loudoun counties, the center is expected to host weddings, funeral, celebrations and other gatherings, with only one to two events per month, according to preliminary application materials submitted to the county.

Most of the events will be on off-peak hours, with an estimated 100 daily trips generated on weekdays and 373 trips on Sundays, according to the application. 

The temple was founded on its current 8 acres of lane in March 2000. 

So far, the design is intended to minimize impacts to the neighboring area. The back of the building will remain largely undisturbed to act as a buffer from the adjacent properties, according to the application.

Most of the surrounding area is developed with residential neighborhoods and houses of worship, including a Catholic Church that is currently in the approval process.

Photo via Rajdghani Mandor/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Boats docked at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) Kitten Rescued in Groveton — Fairfax County firefighters from the Woodlawn station were dispatched to the 7000 block of Richmond Highway on Monday (June 27) after bystanders reported a stray kitten that got stuck in the engine compartment of their coworker’s SUV. First responders were able to “extriCATe the kitten without injury or damage to vehicle,” and a coworker of the original caller agreed to adopt the kitten. [FCFRD/Facebook]

(Correction: This article initially said the kitten was adopted by a firefighter, based on the department’s tweet about the incident.)

Vienna Proposes Tighter Regulation of Massage Parlors — “Council member Ray Brill Jr. requested that Town Attorney Steven Briglia provide possible town-code amendments to address the proliferation of massage establishments in Vienna and its surroundings, as well as possible illegal activity at unlicensed businesses.” [Sun Gazette]

Hidden Oaks Nature Center Reopens — “The newly expanded and renovated Hidden Oaks Nature Center reopened to the public on June  25. The nature center, at 7701 Royce St. in Annandale, had been closed for the past two years, first because of the Covid pandemic, then due to construction.” [Annandale Today]

Two Sent to Hospital by I-495 Crash — “Monday, 11:21 AM, units responded to I495 NB after Route 7 for 3 vehicle crash impacting main & express lanes. 1 van overturned. Crews worked efficiently to treat/transport 2 patients to hospital w/minor injuries. All lanes initially shutdown but reopened w/in 20 minutes.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

McLean Bible Church Lawsuit Dismissed — “The year-long legal fight between McLean Bible Church and a faction who accused leaders including David Platt of a ‘theological takeover’ has come to an end. On Friday, a Fairfax, Virginia, court dismissed a lawsuit from a group of current and former members of the Washington DC-area megachurch, who contested a June 2021 elder election for allegedly violating church bylaws.” [Christianity Today]

Reston Elementary School Gets Funds for Garden — “Lake Anne Elementary was recently awarded a $1,200 grant from EcoRise to create a community food garden. ‘It is our goal to produce food we can share with a food bank or members from our school community,’ said Consuelo Bachelet, a second-grade teacher at the school.” [Patch]

Fairfax County Eager to Draw FBI to Springfield — “No matter where it lands, federal officials suggest the FBI headquarters could host at least 7,500 personnel — about 3,500 fewer than what was pitched the last time around. Time, though, has only strengthened Springfield’s hand, [Board Chair Jeff] McKay said.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Board Approves $1M to Create Fund for Startups — “Fairfax Founders Fund will provide early capital to startup companies in Fairfax County.   The fund will target early-stage technology companies with technical assistance grants of up to $50,000 to help them prepare for later stage investments.” [Department of Economic Initiatives]

Reston Electric Vehicle Company Announces New Investors — “Reston, Virginia-based Electrify America…counts German industrial giant Siemens AG among its big backers…Volkswagen has also increased its investment in the company. Siemens is the first outside investor. The new funding totals $450 million and values Electrify America at $2.45 billion, the company said.” [WTOP]

It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 84 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:48 am and sunset at 8:40 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

A heron flying above Lake Audubon in Reston (photo by Marjorie Copson)

County Seeks Feedback on Covid Response — While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, Fairfax County is starting to evaluate how it handled the crisis. The county government is conducting two surveys — one for the community and one for businesses — to gather feedback on people’s experiences. The surveys are available online and at county libraries until July 5. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax City Community to Weigh in on Street Renamings — “Fairfax City Council is hosting a public hearing at its regular meeting Tuesday night to solicit feedback on a proposal to rename 14 streets in the city whose current names are associated with the confederacy, slavery or the ‘Lost Cause.'” [Patch]

Trash Pile Fire Extinguished in Lorton — “Units are on scene of a large outside trash pile fire in the 9800 block of Furnace Road, Lorton. The fire is contained but crews are working to fully extinguish it.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Learn the History of Juneteenth — Author and University of Maryland history professor Dr. Richard Bell will discuss the history and significance of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the U.S. As of last night (Monday), there are still openings for the hour-long, virtual presentation, which will start at 6:30 p.m. and requires advance registration. [FCPL]

Lincolnia Fire Started by Unattended Cooking — A townhouse fire in the 4500 block of Southland Avenue on Friday (June 10) displaced five people and caused approximately $77,747 in damages. Investigators determined that the fire was started accidentally by “unattended food cooking on the stove” in the kitchen. [FCFRD]

Vienna Eases Rules for Roofs Over Decks — “The Vienna Town Council voted tonight to amend the zoning ordinance to enable homeowners to upgrade their outdoor living space by putting a roof over up to 400 square feet of a deck under certain conditions. For more details, visit http://viennava.gov/zoning.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

County Urges Vigilance for Signs of Child Abuse — “Fairfax County is asking community members to be on the lookout for possible signs of abuse and neglect, now that kids are out of class…Twana Johnson, assistant program manager, child abuse & neglect prevention services at the Department of Family Services, says as child supervision declines during summer months, so do calls to the hotline.” [WDVM]

FCPS Program Teaches Kids How to Ride Bicycles — “33 schools participate in the program, including both elementary schools — which typically have 30 bikes and 40 helmets on hand at a given time. [Safe Routes to Schools coordinator Sally] Smallwood estimates 10% to 20% of FCPS students in grades three to eight do not know how to ride a bike.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning. High of 83 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Barton Hill Recreation Area in Reston (via Google Maps)

Reston Association is appealing a Fairfax County decision requiring additional planning approvals for proposed upgrades at the Barton Hill tennis courts.

The county contends that, in addition to a site plan approval, RA needs to get an amendment to the existing Planned Residential Community (PRC) Plan approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors before installing lights at the tennis court facility.

RA argues that those additional steps are unnecessary.

“If upheld, the determination would unnecessarily improve additional costs on RA and extend the time required to implement the RA Board’s approved objectives,” acting CEO Larry Butler wrote in an April 6 appeal to the county.

RA says it only needs a sports illumination plan to move forward with 23 LED light poles, which would stand 26 feet tall. RA also says that the approved development plan for the area describes the courts as a recreational area and, as a result, allows for greater flexibility in planning.

The addition of lights would expand the facility’s hours.

“RA asserts that the zoning administrator erred in concluding that the proposed changes require approval of a PRC plan and an associated site plan,” Butler wrote.

But the county says that while repaving the courts and striping for pickleball is consistent with previous approvals, the addition of lights “expands the use of the recreation facility beyond that which was contemplated with the previous approvals,” according to a March 10 statement from Bill Maryland, the Department of Planning and Zoning’s deputy zoning administrator.

The proposal includes renovation of four courts, striping for tennis and pickleball, and the addition of lights. RA previously anticipated the project would be ready by the end of the year, but it’s unclear how the timeline will be impacted by the appeal.

The matter is expected to go before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals, but a date has not yet been formalized.

Photo via Google Maps

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A sign outside Tysons Corner Center (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County is examining its signage rules to possibly allow bigger and brighter electronic signs.

Staff discussed the matter yesterday (Tuesday) during a Board of Supervisors’ land use policy committee meeting.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust questioned the goal of the review, which has been underway since March 2019, according to a staff report.

Staff told him the county’s existing ordinance is old and shopping centers want to be competitive. Casey Judge, with the county’s Zoning Administration Division, suggested that easing an application process could help businesses too.

The county has proposed simplifying and consolidating three application processes into one for nonresidential areas.

“We have an awful lot of sign pollution already,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “I’m really concerned about some of this.”

She noted that even signs within buildings, such as lighted “open” signage, can distract drivers and other road users.

Businesses are also already allowed to install electronic signs in residential areas, according to the county.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the committee’s vice chair, said his office has received complaints about existing electronic signs in residential neighborhoods.

Alcorn said he’s not as concerned if a sign is in the middle of a commercial district, but he wants to find out more about how to manage issues near or adjacent to neighborhoods.

The committee’s chair, Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith, directed staff to return with further recommendations for the board to consider.

A draft of changes could be developed this summer or fall. Public hearings are tentatively expected this winter or in early 2023 on any modifications to the county’s rules.

Photo via Google Maps

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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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Morning Notes

Wolftrap Creek in Vienna is high during a rainy Saturday (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Amazon Plans Chantilly Data Center — “Amazon.com Inc.’s data center arm is working to develop a new data center facility in Chantilly, with plans to invest nearly $36 million into the project, according to Fairfax County records. The vacant property located at 3980 Virginia Mallory Drive is part of Amazon’s 46.4 acres in Avion Parkway, which the company bought for $55.9 million in 2021.” [Washington Business Journal]

Rappelling Stunt Supports Fairfax County Nonprofit — “On Thursday and Friday, about 80 people, including two local elected officials, a Washington Post reporter, and a member of the D.C. Divas women’s football team, dressed in full pads and uniform, rappelled down the side of the Crystal City Hilton to raise funds and awareness for New Hope Housing.” [The Washington Post]

County to Choose COVID-19 Memorial Site by September — “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is positioning the county as one of the first localities in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. to build a permanent pandemic remembrance. The Fairfax County Park Authority recently submitted a memorandum to the board, summarizing project details, including design considerations, the project timeline and next steps, including the memorial’s location.” [WTOP]

County Board Sides with American Legion After Neighbor Complaints — “The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted 4-1 April 27 to overturn the zoning administrator’s ruling that American Legion Post 270 in McLean improperly was operating as a banquet-and-reception hall. Surrounding residents have complained about noise, loitering, late-night events and parties lasting until the early morning” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

FCPD Traffic Campaign Yields Citations — “On Tuesday [May 3], officers from our Traffic Division wrote over 100 citations and warnings during our extra enforcement campaign in the Annandale area. This campaign runs through May 22 and is geared towards making our roads safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.” [FCPD/Facebook]

Afghan Refugees Look for Jobs in Tysons — “Job seekers, like 21-year-old Mohammad Fasih Yaqoobi, had the chance to meet with more than 30 employers hiring for roles at all skill levels. In Yaqoobi’s case, the fair represented an opportunity to provide for his family, who have already lived a lifetime of unimaginable circumstances.” [NBC4]

Chapel Road Closed in Clifton Starting Today — “Chapel Road (Route 641) between Water Street and Yates Ford Road (Route 612) will be closed to through traffic, weather permitting, Monday, May 9 through Wednesday, May 11 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day to replace a stormwater pipe, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [VDOT]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 60 and low of 42. Sunrise at 6:03 am and sunset at 8:10 pm. [Weather.gov]

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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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