Arlington asks: Should Covid-era outdoor dining be a permanent fixture?

Arlington County is ask locals if they like Covid-era outdoor dining and want them to stay after the pandemic.

A central question in a recently published survey is where permanent outdoor dining areas would go. The top candidates appear to be streets, parking spots and parking lots, according to the survey, which asks respondents if they are comfortable giving up parking to outdoor dining experiences.

This feedback form, available online through Friday, October 28, is part of Arlington’s program Study on the future of outdoor catering – aptly nicknamed “the FOOD study”. The study, first discussed last fall, is the latest step forward for the outdoor dining movement, which has gained traction during the pandemic.

“The FOOD study will examine the lessons learned from [temporary outdoor restaurant seating areas] and identify recommended changes to the zoning ordinance and outdoor cafe guidelines to strike an appropriate balance between commercial resilience and public and community interest,” the webpage reads.

In 2020, Arlington County Council approved a temporary way for restaurants to bypass the normally lengthy bureaucratic process to obtain outdoor dining permits. Many restaurants have launched these Temporary outdoor rest areas (TOSA) to offset the loss of revenue due to social distancing requirements and temperamental diners in indoor spaces, providing guests with a probably safer culinary experience in the process.

Since then, the county council has expanded and shaped the ordinance according to changing circumstances.

In December, the Council granted restaurant and bar owners the option of setting up TOSAs in common areas, such as plazas. When capacity restrictions were lifted in spring 2021, the county council gave restaurants a way to apply for temporary occupancy certificates for their TOSAs so they could operate seating areas while operating at full capacity at inside.

Now the county is considering whether it should allow local restaurants to permanently expand their outdoor dining areas on private and public property, according to the county’s website.

For example, the study will consider how many private parking spaces and public cafes within the right-of-way are expected to occupy, and whether those on private property could continue to operate with administrative approval, while those operating in public spaces would require county council approval.

“Given the public interest, outdoor cafes in public rights-of-way generally face more stringent requirements,” the website says. “This approach helps to ensure that sidewalks continue to meet the mobility needs of the public or the recreational needs of those who enjoy public spaces and is intended to protect other community interests and avoid negative impacts.”

Permanent outdoor dining areas can find themselves competing with another much-needed amenity: private parking provided by the restaurant. Currently, county zoning ordinances require a parking space for every six seats in restaurants located more than 1,000 feet from a subway station.

A breach in the parking lot may not impact the majority of TOSAs, many of which are concentrated in areas accessible to the subway, such as the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and in Crystal City and Pentagon City, according to a map of TOSA locations. existing.

A map of Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSA) (via Arlington County)

But parking spaces have enough potential for the survey to ask respondents what safety features would encourage them to eat in on-street parking areas or in a car park, such as traffic barriers, planters, reflectors and tents.

(Some notable local examples of outdoor seating in private car parks include cowboy cafe along Langston Blvd and Clare and Don’s Beach Shack in the City of Falls Church, which set up seating, a tent and a concert stage in his back parking lot.)

In addition to the survey, people can participate in virtual meetings on outdoor seating proposals. Ultimately, staff will make a recommendation for potential changes to the code after considering public feedback, as well as safety, accessibility, fairness, aesthetics and adaptability, according to the site. County website.

Among other things, this means that staff will ensure that permanent rest areas are accessible to emergency personnel and sufficiently protect diners, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers from injury, danger or loss of property. – perhaps a sharper point in the months since some diners were seriously injured after a car crashed into the Four Courts of Ireland.

The FOOD study intensifies as the county repeals its looser pandemic-era licensing process. Applying for outdoor tents reverted to the pre-pandemic process, for example, and TOSA permits are set to expire after February 15, 2023.

“To ensure a level of business continuity for restaurants, the timing of any regulatory or process updates for outdoor dining will align with the removal of TOSA provisions,” the county said. said.

A permanent outdoor seating regime, featuring some aspects of the TOSA program, is currently expected to be ready by spring.