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Westover Beer Garden Outdoor Seating Fight May Prompt Changes to County Code

Advocates for the Westover Beer Garden helped convince the County Board to try to change the local law governing outdoor seating at restaurants and bars.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Board directed County Manager Mark Schwartz to suggest revisions to County Code to provide more flexibility to those who wish to add more seats outside than inside.

Under current law, the beer garden at 5863 Washington Blvd cannot add to its outdoor seating, as county use permits expressly forbid having more outdoor seats than indoor seats.

That stands in contrast to the soon-to-open Continental Beer Garden in Rosslyn, which has many more seats outside than inside and can do so because it went through a site plan process, which requires County Board approval and is much more involved than a standard administrative permit process.

“We have recently heard from the owner and many patrons that they would like the opportunity to expand the outdoor seating at the Westover Beer Garden beyond the number currently permitted by law,” County Board chair Jay Fisette said. “As it turns out, the long-standing County Code places significant restrictions on outdoor seating for retail establishments – and specifically prohibits flexibility if governed through a use permit, while allowing more flexibility if sought through a site plan amendment.”

Supporters of the Westover Beer Garden showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to testify on the Continental Beer Garden and highlight the differences between the two. Westover has faced an ongoing battle with the county over its outdoor seating, as it applied recently to expand its currently-allowed 24 seats and its live music offerings.

Having exceeded that total and received a citation from the county, Westover must comply with its use permit by June 1. But owner Dave Hicks said sticking to 24 seats will cause problems for the business.

“If required on June 1 to reduce seating to 24 seats (a third of what we have now), Westover Market is not a viable business,” Hicks wrote on the “Save the Westover Beer Garden” Facebook page. “June is one of our busiest months. We have 22 employees and would have to reduce that number by half. But even that wouldn’t pay the rent, taxes, electricity and other fixed expenses.”

Fisette set the goal of the County Board taking action by October, after a review process that will involve the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee of the Planning Commission. Planning director Robert Duffy said staff will work “aggressively” to meet that goal.

Board member John Vihstadt said revising the County Code will mean “equitability in terms of our planning,” while Fisette said it is important to protect places like the Westover Beer Garden.

“Part of Arlington’s success has been in creating active public spaces and a vibrant pedestrian realm,” Fisette said. “We recognize the value of lively and safe community gathering spaces which bring people together and help knit the fabric of our various neighborhoods — places such as the Westover Beer Garden.”

Kalina Newman contributed reporting.

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