Restaurants in the town of Vienna will be able to enjoy their temporary permits for outdoor dining through next June, but the Vienna Town Council on Dec. 6 also approved some additional restrictions to protect nearby residences.
Residents and restaurateurs have shown considerable enthusiasm for outdoor dining during the pandemic and the latter say the loosened rules – which let the town manager issue special permits for such activities instead of forcing restaurant owners to go through the more costly and laborious process of obtaining conditional-use permits – helped those businesses survive during the crisis.
But residents of Wilmar Place, N.W., complained loudly at a Nov. 15 Council meeting that the din of diners supping on the rear parking area at a Church Street, N.W., site housing Bazin’s on Church and Blend 111 restaurants made it impossible for them to enjoy their back yards.
The homeowners stressed they had shown forbearance during the pandemic, but did not wish the roar to be a permanent situation sanctified by town policy.
Council members at a Nov. 30 work session hammered out what they thought was a good compromise for moving forward, then made a number of changes at the Dec. 6 meeting.
Council members on Dec. 6 voted 7-0 to extend through Dec. 31 the current special permits for outdoor dining issued under the temporary rules, which 22 restaurants have obtained.
The rules obviate the need for restaurants to obtain conditional-use permits, which would cost $1,500 and require a Vienna Planning Commission review and final decision by the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
In addition, those temporary rules allow the use of off-street parking spaces for dining. Thirteen of the special-permit holders have taken advantage of that opportunity to provide seating areas in 58 parking spaces, town officials said.
The Town Council on Dec. 6 also unanimously approved a zoning-ordinance text amendment to continue the temporary rules for another six months through June 30, 2022. But the language had further conditions, including:
• No more than eight seats for outdoor dining will be allowed per off-street parking space. This will reduce noise and potentially free up more parking spaces, said Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert.
• Outdoor dining within 60 feet of the property line of residentially zoned properties may be occupied from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Council originally intended to set the dining cutoff time at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but decided to reduce it further to mollify neighbors. Some Council members advocated for the later time, saying Friday and Saturday evenings are the times when many restaurants make most of their money.
Blend 111 and Bazin’s on Church are the only restaurants in town for which the new rules pertaining to hours of operation and distance from residential properties apply.
Restaurants violating the town’s noise rules will be warned first and then fined for civil violations, said Town Attorney Steven Briglia.
The Council will spend the next several months considering options for permanent outdoor-dining rules. Council member Ray Brill said he and his colleagues in the interim should check out the town’s outdoor-dining situation in person to get a sense of the amount of noise generated.
Colbert agreed whole-heartedly, with tongue in cheek.
“That’s always my vote at night,” she said. “Go out to a restaurant, don’t cook.”