Is Legal Sea Foods’ Sidewalk Seating Legal?

by ARLnow.com April 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm 4,651 57 Comments

Legal Sea Foods’ sidewalk cafe in Crystal City seems a bit fishy to one local.

The outdoor seating area has “taken over almost the whole sidewalk on 23rd Street,” an anonymous reader tells ARLnow.com. “The pedestrian area is now down to a single file lane to get past the restaurant. The other restaurants on that part of 23rd have not pushed their outdoor seating out that far… what gives?”

“I walk to work every morning and somedays I have to either walk in the street or wait for people walking the other way to get by,” the tipster added. “That has to be against code doesn’t it?”

We couldn’t reach anybody in the zoning office to confirm whether Legal is in violation of the law, but generally county ordinances require a minimum six-foot clear passage zone on Arlington sidewalks. Clearly, the above photos show that that standard is not being met in this case.

Update at 4:45 p.m. — It’s possible that the building owner may own the sidewalk in front of Legal, in which case they would be able to do pretty much whatever they want with it, as far as the county was concerned. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, however, requires that sidewalks maintain a minimum width of three feet on a contiguous basis.


    The tourons walking 8 abreast do not help. FREDTERP

    • Tim

      LOL, so true about the tourists walking eight abreast — especially in the mornings when I’m trying to get to the Metro to go to work.

  • Mark

    It wasn’t that far out last year. Couple of more years and they’ll take over the whole sidewalk.

    • Lyon Village

      All ya gotta do is pay the right Code Enforcement staff off. They are thugs and crooks. All the construction guys know the drill.

      • Thes

        That’s a very serious and specific criminal allegation. If you have evidence of such conduct, you should report it to the police. If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be defaming people in this comments section.

        • R.Griffon

          Welcome to the Interwebs.

        • FedUp

          I have heard of this allegation before. It’s hard to prove, since the businesses that benefit from this (they have the money to pay off these County inspectors so they get their permits more quickly) will not talk. But it is something that the County should investigate: why do inspectors treat some business owners better than others? Why is there such a disparity in the time it takes to obtain a permit or to get an inspection done when they’re dealing with the same type of business? Why do some business owners get treated rudely and others don’t?

      • Dems for New Leadership

        Now who is the Inspector General and why isn’t he/she investigating these County crooks? Oh, that’s right, Arlington has chosen not to have an independent oversight / investigative function. Conveneient, huh?

  • ChrisG

    Probably depends on if you are counting 6 ft to the curb or 6 ft to that bench that looks like it should be moved.

    • me

      I’m going to sit on that bench a stare down someone eating their lunch.

      • OX4

        I was just thinking the same thing.

      • NPGMBR


  • YourWaitTimeIs5Days

    ARLNow for shame. Did someone measure curb to fence? Is it 6 feet or not? Looks like it could be. Did you ask Legal for a comment? I like little gotchas – but at least have a we called at 4 am and no one answered at Legal to respond. Or wait for county to get back to you that the tipster is just a whiner or has, along with ARLNow, a public service.

    • charlie

      ARLNOW — not sure this isn’t a bit of yellow journalism… I’d much rather you report that the County has requested that they move the fence.
      I’ prefer you reporting on the news, not making it.

      • I would have run this story regardless of the actual regulations — the tipster raises a legitimate concern about the amount of space being taken up on a high-traffic sidewalk.

        • Thes

          Good idea. ARLnow.com has reported on many other safety issues and transportation nuisances throughout the County. This is hardly the first. I’m glad these things are brought to the public’s attention.

        • NPGMBR

          You did the right thing because reporting it brings it to our attention. Otherwise we’d likely never know and few would bother to contact the County.

        • ChrisG

          Scott, who owns the dead tree on the corner of Eads and 12th. Presumably it is either the Lenox Club or the County; but either way it needs to come down before it kills someone.

          there’s a cab driver that parks under it every night. I like to imagine he’s just waiting to collect the insurance money on the cab.

      • R.Griffon

        Disagree. As a news org, it’s not their responsibility to try to cure the County’s ills. It’s their job to REPORT them. Now it’s up to citizens to follow up.

        While it would certainly add interest to contact the County for a response, I don’t think they’re being “yellow” at all by simply pointing out people’s concerns.

    • Thes

      The 6-foot “requirement” might not even apply in Crystal City, as noted below. However, if you look carefully you will see that there might very well be 6′ of clear sidewalk with if you don’t include the benches and tree pots. In other locations, trees are not in pots, but instead are in pits. Usually tree *pits* are not allowed to be included in the clear sidewalk width calculation (if there is one) — however, I wonder if this restaurant owner would say the answer is to rip out the benches and pots to give enough space in the sidewalk. It’s not really a good answer, but it’s the kind of answer we hear from people who are using our sidewalks to earn a private profit.

      • Ben

        Well that extra profit does get driven back as taxes – so it’s not entirely freeloading.

    • JamesE

      Using the average width of a car and an approximate pixel count in photoshop I concluded the fence to curb is 5.7 feet, who is the jerk now?

      • Smart car or Suburban?

        • JamesE

          1956 Cadillac

        • Cyrus

          Daewoo Lanos

  • Thes

    The link provided to the “county ordinances” is to a section that basically applies only in Clarendon. The community in Clarendon for many years has tried to get the County to put such requirements in writing in order to prevent the kind of sidewalk takeovers depicted in these photos. As a result, over time, many requirements have been put in place in Clarendon. Even so, building and restaurant owners often look for loopholes, or simply ignore the rules. Thus, we have lately seen a lot of permanent fencing going up around Clarendon eateries where people could be walking on the sidewalk.

    Extensive, specific and detailed regulation of outdoor seating has proven to be the best way to handle this issue — but that generally only works when you do it thoughtfully in advance.

  • Chris

    When is the Crystal City Restaurant going to get outdoor seating and table service?

    • PghBigDog

      MAH-VELOUS idea! +1000000000000

    • they do make a good steak. reasonably priced, too.

      …what? they do.

      • Maria

        Uh huh.

  • FedUp

    This business may end up with a stiff fine. The government zoning and permits people can get really nasty with taxpayers. Or they retaliate against the tipster. They do that too. Oh, and I’m not surprised that you couldn’t reach anybody in zoning office. They never answer the phone.

  • Srsly

    Tattle tells. You. The guy that wrote in. All of you. If he has issue, he should go to the right people. Maybe even ask the manager first, to avoid all this petty stuff and some possible fines.

    • bennynojets

      Right. Because the manager is going to say “you are right, Joe Pedestrian, we do need to move our fence and seating back. Thank you for pointing that out.”

      • Thes

        I know people who’ve done that — tried to talk to the manager directly neighbor-to-neighbor. In some cases it worked and the restaurant really did pull stuff back inside the area they’re supposed to be. In other cases the restaurant will lawyer-up and claim harassment.

        • Josh S

          Let’s try to guess which direction Legal Sea Foods will go…..

  • Tre

    Illegal Seafood

  • CW

    I’ve been asking for a long time now – why is Boccato gelato allowed to have their random benches and knicknacks on the curb side of the sidewalk? Makes it completely impassable during the summer with the mob of people that gathers. Same deal. No other establishment in that neighborhood does it.

    • KalashniKEV

      Who cares… just walk around. We need more outdoor stuff.
      (I wonder how much I could lease the empty Dremo’s lot for, and if it is legal to have a bar with no building)

      • Steve

        Virginia doesn’t ever allow bars. Everything is a restaurant that is allowed to serve alcohol.

      • Bringmetheyuppies

        Holy crap! I actually agree with Kev!!! A buncha whiny little babies. Guess I’ll have to hit Legal Sea this week to show my support. If the owner owns the sidewalk, I would suggest ripping out the bench and planters for less obstruction and put outdoor seating on the whole damn block!

        • Lou

          Or at least charge people a cover if they sit on that bench.

      • RosRes


      • Southeast Ben

        Not sure about VA, but have you ever been to the Bullpen at Nats Stadium. That place must make a killing. What price per square foot do you think they are paying for plywood and 2×4 framing? I’m guessing their food sales are x percentage to alcohol like VA requires either. I usually count about 200 buds and bud lights to 1 hot dog.

      • CW

        Kev – I guess my bigger issue is no so much that they block the sidewalk but more that I am curious as to why they get to do something that no other business does (i.e. take up the entire sidewalk). It seems that they have given themselves the authority to do this; since if it were allowable one would think that other businesses would do it as well.

        • Dr. Spock

          It’s not the ‘street furniture’ that blocks the sidewalk in front of Boccato, it’s the (usually empty) SUV-sized stollers parked willy-nilly along that strip.

          • CW

            I agree whole-heartedly. But it’s a sort of yuppie, brown flip-flop take on the broken window theory. Allow the benches and trinkets, which invites the strollers, and the dogs, and the bikes, and…

  • suzy

    This is nothing compared to the lack of clearance in front of 4 Courts. Passing that area of sidewalk is my daily obstacle course. Throw in a rope ladder and some tires and I’m all set!

  • DaveinSA

    It’s been that way for two years. My co-workers and I have learned how to walk around the “pots” when there is opposing traffic. Have no idea what “the rules” are.

    • brian

      I like to knock the pots into the street.

  • WhoCares

    We should get the Red Hook Lobster Truck to park across the street.

  • Brandon

    Being forced to walk past people who eat at Legal Sea Foods should be a code violation. Never mind how much room you have to do it.

  • Josh S

    Whatever the legal situation, this is clearly an annoying situation for pedestrians. If the county placed that tree pot, they should move it. If legal sea food did, then they should move it. It’s just inconsiderate and stupid to have such an easily avoidable problem. If the tree pot wasn’t there, no one would complain about the outdoor seating.

  • Josh S

    OH, and the placement of the bench is equally ridiculous. Who in the sam hell would ever stop and use that bench? Remove it.

    • Hmm

      Those waiting for a table, perhaps?

  • Phil

    you people need better things to do with your lives than complain about <6 feet of sidewalk… get over it

    • Mark

      Says someone who probably doesn’t have to walk past that place everyday. None of the other restaurants on that part of the sidewalk have extended their outdoor seating like Legal Seafood has and I would be curious if Arl.now ever got a hold of the zoning office. It’s dangerous to try and walk past their morning and night, especially if you find yourself in the street. That intersection is crazy and dangerous and the mentality continues onto the side streets.


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