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Arlington could scrub ‘dance halls’ from its county code books

The revamped and reopened Clarendon Ballroom (photo courtesy of Albert Ting/B Social Hospitality)

Arlington County code could soon no longer reference “public dance halls” and the dizzying disco the term evokes.

That would mean live entertainment venue operators would be cut loose from paying for a $600 permit annually.

This weekend, the Arlington County Board is slated to hear a request to advertise a public hearing on whether to repeal a section of the county code governing dance halls. If a hearing is approved, the Board could authorize the change next month.

The section of code in question was adopted in 1969, when people were doing the “Funky Chicken.” That year, a state law allowed localities to issue licenses for public dance halls to “regulate and mitigate the land use impacts associated with establishments where dancing occurred,” per a county report.

A Northern Virginia Sun article from the time notes that the first dancing allowed by the permit took place at the Windjammer Lounge of the Twin Bridges Marriott Motor Hotel, the first lodging establishment opened by the now-international hotel chain.

Northern Virginia Sun article on first dance hall permit (via Library of Virginia)

But Arlington County says this regulation is redundant and burdensome for today’s venues hosting DJs remixing Bad Bunny beats.

That’s because four years after the 1969 code was adopted, the county began requiring business owners to obtain a County Board-approved special exception use permit to provide “live entertainment” — a broad category that includes dancing. Anyone looking to allow dancing specifically still needed the dance hall permit.

“These parallel processes effectively result in the Zoning Ordinance being the primary regulatory mechanism for public dance halls with the County Code assuming an administrative function,” according to a county report.

To ease up on live entertainment venues, the county is looking to simplify permitting processes.

Repealing the code, per the report, “both reduces regulatory burdens for small businesses and eliminates unnecessary regulatory processes without adverse impacts to standing policies and practices related to the regulation of live entertainment and public dance halls.”

The county will still regulate live entertainment venues, given the “land use impacts” associated with live venues, such as noise, disorderly guests or frequent police visits. That means there will still be public hearings, when the community can seek redress for potential impacts a venue may have, such as modified hours of operation.

“It is not just that they may be upsetting to neighbors; they are considered impacts because they are potentially ordinance violations,” said Erika Moore, a spokeswoman with the Department of Community, Planning and Development. “For example, music being played would have to violate the Noise Ordinance for it to be considered a land use impact.”

For instance, Arlington had to revoke the live entertainment permits of Pines of Italy and the Purple Lounge, both of which operated from the same building on Columbia Pike, over health and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board violations.

In proposing the change, county staff noted the dwindling number of places seeking dancing permits. For instance, the Salsa Room moved from Columbia Pike to the current Palladium space at 1524 Spring Hill Road in Tysons in March 2020.

“The current number of public dance hall permits represents a reduction of 60% in the total number of public dance halls over the past 5 years,” the report said.

The Zoning Division issued 10 public dance hall permits in the past 12 months, per the county. They were for:

  • Darna (946 N. Jackson Street)
  • Pike Bolivian Pizza (4111 Columbia Pike)
  • O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub (3207 Washington Blvd.)
  • Restaurante El Salvador (4805 Columbia Pike)
  • Spider Kelly’s (3181 Wilson Blvd)
  • DoubleTree Crystal City Skydome (300 Army Navy Drive)
  • Clarendon Pop-Up (3185 Wilson Blvd)
  • Sushi Rock (1900 Clarendon Blvd)
  • Top of the Town (1400 14th Street N.)
  • Renegade Coffee & Kitchen (3100 Clarendon Blvd)

But that doesn’t mean live entertainment died during the pandemic. Two shuttered venues in Clarendon — Whitlow’s on Wilson and Clarendon Ballroom — have since reopened under new ownership.

In the Whitlow’s space, local restaurateurs Christal and Mike Bramson, who are behind The Lot beer garden, opened B Live and are working to open Coco B’s this fall.

After being home to a series of pop-up bars by the Bramsons, Clarendon Ballroom, was revamped and opened by Michael Darby, a local developer, reality star and former restaurant owner.

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