Arlington County is asking locals if they like Covid-era outdoor dining and want it to stay post-pandemic.
One central question in a recently-posted survey is where permanent outdoor dining areas would go. Top contenders appear to be streets, parking spaces and parking lots, according to the survey, which asks respondents if they’re comfortable ceding some parking to outdoor dining experiences.
This feedback form, available online through Friday, Oct. 28, is part of Arlington’s Future of Outdoor Dining Study — appropriately dubbed the “FOOD Study.” The study, first discussed last fall, is the latest step forward for the open-air eating movement, which gained traction during the pandemic.
“The FOOD Study will look at lessons learned from [temporary outdoor restaurant seating areas] and identify recommended amendments to the Zoning Ordinance and Outdoor Café Guidelines to strike an appropriate balance between commercial resiliency and public and community interest,” the webpage said.
In 2020, the Arlington County Board approved a temporary way for restaurants to circumvent the normally lengthy bureaucratic process for getting an outdoor dining permit. Many restaurants debuted these Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSAs) to make up for lost revenue due to social distancing requirements and diners skittish of indoor spaces, giving guests an arguably safer dining experience in the process.
Since then, the County Board has expanded and molded the ordinance to changing circumstances.
In December, the Board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up TOSAs in common areas, such as plazas. When capacity restrictions were lifted in the spring of 2021, the County Board gave restaurants a way to request temporary certificates of occupancy for their TOSAs so they could operate the seating areas while operating at full capacity indoors.
Now, the county is examining whether it should allow local restaurants to expand their outdoor dining areas on both private and public property permanently, according to the county website.
For instance, the study will look at how much private parking space and public right-of-way cafés should take up, and whether those on private property could continue operating with administrative approval, while those operating in public spaces would need County Board approval.
“Given the public interest, outdoor cafés in public rights-of-way generally face stricter requirements,” the website says. “This approach helps ensure sidewalks continue to serve mobility needs of the public or recreation needs of those enjoying public spaces and aims to protect other community interests and avoid adverse impacts.”
Permanent outdoor dining areas may end up in competition with another in-demand amenity: private parking provided by the restaurant. Currently, county zoning ordinances require one parking space for every six seats in restaurants that are more than 1,000 feet from a Metro station.
A dent in parking might not impact the majority of TOSAs, many of which are concentrated in Metro-accessible areas, such as the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and in Crystal City and Pentagon City, per a map of existing TOSA locations.
But parking spaces have enough potential that the survey asks respondents what safety features would encourage them to eat in street parking zones or in a parking lot, such as traffic barriers, planters, reflective features and tents.
Arlington is returning to the pre-pandemic process for restaurants to apply for outdoor tents, a move that has left at least a couple of local restaurants unhappy.
For the last two years, the county has made an effort to streamline the application process for outdoor tents as part of helping restaurants set up temporary outdoor seating areas, or TOSAs.
Back in December, however, the process for applying for outdoor tents was separated from the TOSA process, which was recently extended to February 2023. Arlington, meanwhile, is letting its Covid state of emergency expire on Aug. 15.
“The application process is returning to the pre-pandemic process that has always been in place. The process for tents was streamlined to help businesses during the pandemic,” County spokesperson Jessica Baxter tells ARLnow. “As they were before the pandemic, applications for tents must be submitted via the temporary structure/tent here. The guidelines for tents remain the same and have not changed.”
Those guidelines are enforced by the Arlington County Fire Department and fire marshall. Among the rules: a tent cannot be larger than 900 square feet and there needs to be a separate permit and inspections for gas heaters.
There is also a limitation on how long an outdoor temporary tent can be up: only six months (180 days) out of the year. What’s more, a business can’t apply for another permit to put up another tent until a six-month period has lapsed since the last tent was taken down.
These rules exist, said Baxter, because of the statewide fire code and there’s not much the county can do.
“The six-month temporary tent allowance is part of the Virginia Statewide Fire Code, which the County is required to follow. If an applicant wishes to make the tent more permanent, they can apply for a building permit and enter that process,” she wrote. “At this time, no tents should be up, with the exception of restaurants that received a building permit and single, pop-up tents smaller than 120 square feet.”
Of course, the fire code seems to be in conflict with the desire of many to dine outdoors, while being protected from the elements. With the state health department still reporting more than 100 Covid infections per day in Arlington, eating outside is widely viewed as a less risky alternative to indoor dining.
Baxter said the county is “actively working to create longer-term solutions that offer permanent outdoor dining options,” but temporary outdoor tents are not part of that effort because of the restrictions laid out in the fire code.
With most of the outdoor tents coming down in December, many businesses could have started reapplying for outdoor tents for the upcoming fall and winter season in June.
But reverting to a pre-pandemic process and guidelines has left a couple of restaurants that talked with ARLnow confused, frustrated, and at a loss on how to explain this to customers.
One is Medium Rare, the local steak restaurant with locations in Maryland, D.C., and one in Arlington’s Virginia Square neighborhood.
In the previous pandemic years, the restaurant did have an outdoor tent for diners, but Medium Rare had to take it down this past December, said owner Mark Bucher.
He told ARLnow that compared to other local jurisdictions, Arlington’s TOSA process, as well as the one to apply for outdoor tents, is “complicated and cumbersome.”
Bucher also wondered what the logic was behind the directive that a restaurant a tent had to come down after six months.
“Arlington has always been so restaurant-friendly, so this goes against everything,” he said. “Why put up a tent, take it down, and pay to put it back up again?”
As the weather turns cooler again, and as Covid and other respiratory diseases ramp up, customers are going to want to sit outside in a heated tent, he said. But Bucher worries that a number of restaurants are not going to go through the process to get a temporary tent again, and diners are going to take their business to other nearby jurisdictions.
For his part, Bucher said Medium Rare in Virginia Square will not be reapplying to put up an outdoor tent.
New “West Coast-inspired” Clarendon watering hole Bar Ivy has started serving as part of its soft opening, ahead of a planned grand opening celebration.
We’re told that the soft opening — with a limited menu, limited seatings and limited hours — started on Friday. The grand opening is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29.
Located at 3033 Wilson Blvd, a block from the Metro station, Bar Ivy has both Instagrammable indoor seating areas and a large, 125-seat “outdoor garden plaza” featuring a “casual walk-up kiosk” that will serve coffee and pastries in the morning.
“Bar Ivy combines the cool, relaxed vibe of the West Coast with a Mid Atlantic approach to ingredients, shining the spotlight on seafood and vegetables, vibrant cocktails and low-intervention wines,” said a press release announcing the opening. “Guests will find an elegant but laid-back atmosphere with subtle influences from the opposite coast, with attractive al fresco dining, an open, airy interior, and a casual Kiosk serving morning coffee and breakfast.”
The full press release is below.
With construction nearly complete, Bar Ivy in Clarendon is aiming to open later this month.
Tables and chairs are already out at the large outdoor cafe at 3033 Wilson Blvd, located a block from the Clarendon Metro station. Workers appeared to be putting the finishing touches on the coffee kiosk as much of the signage has also gone up.
The hope is to open Bar Ivy sometime in the second half of May, a spokesperson tells ARLnow.
The mostly outdoor bar and restaurant was first proposed to the County Board in October 2020. Construction began last summer.
Bar Ivy is aiming for a “cool, relaxed vibe of the West Coast with a Mid-Atlantic approach to ingredients,” said an April press release. It’s set to have a large 125-seat patio that will be shaded by mature crepe myrtles. There will also be a 20-seat interior bar plus several booths.
“Guests can expect an elegant but laid-back atmosphere with subtle influences from the opposite coast, with attractive garden dining, an open, airy bungalow-style interior,” the release says.
Bar Ivy is from D.C.-based Blagden Hospitality Group, which owns several popular bars and restaurants in the District as well as Hei Hei Tiger in Tysons. This is the restaurant group’s first foray into Arlington, though Bar Ivy chef/owner Nathan Beauchamp and Executive Chef Jonathan Till previously worked at Restaurant Eve and Evening Star Cafe, respectively, in Alexandria.
The name, according to Arlington Magazine, is a nod to the ivy at D.C.’s Calico and the famed Los Angeles restaurant often frequented by celebrities.
Bar Ivy will initially be open for dinner with a small kiosk serving coffee and pastries all day. The plan is to eventually serve lunch and brunch as well.
The menu will be “heavily influenced by seafood and vegetable-forward dishes,” according to the press release.
The beverage program will be “seasonal herb and produce-forward” along with house-made fortified wines, vermouth, and amari utilizing “self-foraged ingredients.” There will also be a separate menu dedicated to low/no-alcohol drinks.
The menu and exact hours are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The restaurant group is already planning to open a second Bar Ivy in Bethesda.
The two nightlife venues replacing Whitlow’s on Wilson are gearing up to open over the next few months.
Taking over the long-time local watering hole, which closed in June after more than 25 years in Clarendon, are B Live and Coco B’s.
The two concepts, both to be located at at 2854 Wilson Blvd, are the latest ventures from Michael Bramson, who’s behind The Lot beer garden and the Clarendon Pop-Up Bar.
“We are thrilled to open B Live early spring, and Coco B’s late summer,” Bramson tells ARLnow. “We do not have anticipated opening dates yet, but construction and design are well underway for both concepts.”
Additional details will come soon, he said.
Building permits indicate B Live will occupy the first floor and possibly the basement of the space and Coco B’s will be the name of the old rooftop tiki bar at Whitlow’s. (The name Coco B’s could be a nod to the tiki bar theme, or to the noted local TikTok personality whose spats with two Arlington bars attracted considerable attention last summer.)
Bramson’s updates come after last Tuesday’s County Board approval of use permits for live entertainment and dancing at the two spots, as well as for a 48-seat outdoor café at B Live. The approvals came despite opposition from some neighbors over noise concerns.
The County Board approved the following operating hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Sundays, which a county report says are similar to those of neighboring bars.
The Lyon Village Civic Association proposed earlier cut-off times of 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, the report said.
Board members instead approved a recommendation from county staff to review these permits this November and evaluate how successful the bars are at mitigating sounds.
Bramson says the spots will have sound panels and dampening curtains and speakers will be strategically placed to lessen noise levels.
“We are a neighborhood spot and want the community to be comfortable whether they are within the spaces or living nearby,” he said. “We hope our proactive response and action have served to allay any residential apprehension and show that we are taking their concerns very seriously.”
Noise from Whitlow’s was a source of consternation for neighbors that resulted in operating hours being curtailed from 2 a.m. to midnight, plus a requirement to install sound dampening panels and curtains, county planner Cedric Southerland told the County Board last Tuesday.
“That came after years and years trying to work with them to remedy their sound impacts on the neighborhood,” Southerland said. “Additionally, that issue is what preceded the formation of the Clarendon Live Entertainment Group (CLEG), along with other bars and restaurants coming online at that time.”
Established in 2002, the CLEG brings together county staff, restaurant owners and neighbors to address concerns and coordinate code enforcement. Southerland says recently, the CLEG has been meeting fewer times per year, which he takes to be a sign that the group is addressing the concerns that led to its creation two decades ago.
But not all neighbors say mechanisms like the CLEG actually help residents enjoy their homes. Julissa Marenco told the County Board on Tuesday that staff are not sufficiently enforcing noise violations and these organizations do not actually go to bat for neighbors.
“We are all in support of music, we are all in support of living in an urban dwelling, we understand the considerations that come with living in these neighborhoods,” she said. “But it’s now at a point on Wilson Blvd, in Clarendon, that it’s having a tremendous impact on individuals.”
Construction has started on major renovations to the Crystal City Water Park, JBG Smith announced Monday.
JBG Smith will update the existing, 1.6-acre park at 1601 Crystal Drive with new restaurant kiosks and seating areas, a full-service restaurant, new water features — including a “water wall” with a bar perched on top — and a stage.
The Arlington County Board approved plans for the park in March 2021, after deferring an earlier proposal that members predicted would lead to unsafe pedestrian and cyclist interactions.
The privately-owned park has long hosted small food and drink vendors. The new kiosks will highlight local, minority- and women-owned businesses, “local favorites” and “renowned names,” JBG Smith says.
“We are particularly excited about the Water Park kiosks, which will serve as incubator spaces where up-and-coming chefs and [restaurateurs] can experiment and grow,” JBG Smith Senior Vice President of Retail Leasing Amy Rice said in a statement.
In addition to decorative water features, the revamped park will also feature public art installations and a building with public restrooms and bike facilities near the entrance to the Mt. Vernon Trail. JBG Smith says it is working with Virginia Railway Express to build an accessible connection to the future entrance of the relocated VRE station.
The Water Park is not the JBG-owned public space getting upgrades. Two blocks south at 2121 Crystal Drive, a lightly used private park space in front of an office building will see renovations and the construction of a 5,587-square-foot restaurant. Work on that project also started recently.
The restaurant, named Surreal, will be led by Chef Enrique Limardo and his team, which are behind Seven Reasons and Imperfecto in D.C.
JBG Smith expects to complete both the Crystal City Water Park and Surreal in 2023.
“We see these both as inviting public spaces where families will enjoy a sunny day and colleagues can gather after work for a drink, a bite to eat and live music,” said JBG Smith Executive Vice President Bryan Moll in a statement.
Visitors will be able to keep their drinks in hand as they walk these open spaces. Last year, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority gave the developer the go-ahead to establish a “sip and stroll” zone within the boundaries of Crystal City Water Park and the courtyard.
It will be Arlington’s third “sip and stroll” zone, after the Village at Shirlington and Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row).
These two projects, plus Amazon’s second headquarters and other redevelopment projects by JBG Smith, will triple the number of retail businesses in Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, dubbed National Landing, the developer says.
Dems to Discuss School Board Caucus — “Unsurprisingly, perhaps, into this climate of culture war skirmishes surrounding public education comes opposition to the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s long-standing caucus process and even opposition to Democratic endorsement of candidates for school boards seats… At its February meeting, Arlington Democrats will debate the issues raised by its critics and vote on whether and how to change its caucus and endorsement process.” [Blue Virginia]
Winter Outdoor Dining Guide — “Before the pandemic, we never imagined that al fresco dining season in Northern Virginia would stretch into the teeth of winter. And while the wave of the latest Omicron cases seems to have peaked (fingers crossed!), those who are cautious about Covid but still want to support local businesses might choose to eat outside in the fresh air. Here are 11 restaurants cranking up the heat on outdoor dining spaces, and adding fun elements like fire pits or tented igloos.” [Arlington Magazine]
Steep HQ2 Energy Offset Costs — “The cost for Amazon.com Inc. to offset carbon emissions at its PenPlace development and meet Arlington County’s energy expectations will run upward of $5 million, according to a study by the company’s Seattle consultant.” [Washington Business Journal]
Beyer Calls for Long Covid Data — “A pair of Democratic House members asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a letter Tuesday to release data on the number of Americans who suffer lingering symptoms of coronavirus infection, including breakdowns along race, gender and age… Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who has sponsored legislation to fund studies of long covid, co-signed the letter with Pressley.” [Washington Post, U.S. House of Representatives]
More on Pentagon City Apartment Upgrades — “An existing 12-year-old apartment high-rise adjacent to what will be Amazon’s massive HQ2 campus, Metropolitan Park, in Arlington County, Virginia, has been acquired… and the investors plan a multimillion makeover fitting for HQ2’s panache. ‘We are going to make these apartments the coolest and most desirable homes on the park,’ said Steve Schwat, UIP founding principal.” [WTOP]
Two Crystal City Hotels Sold — “An Atlanta real estate investment manager has acquired a pair of Crystal City hotels a little more than a month after their former owner primed them for future redevelopment. Affiliates of Noble Investment Group paid a combined $64.3 million in mid-December for the 162-room Hampton Inn & Suites Reagan National Airport and the 248-room Hilton Garden Inn, according to Arlington County land records… There do not appear to be immediate changes planned for the hotels themselves, except for their names.” [Washington Business Journal]
It’s Wednesday — Today will be sunny, with a high near 30. Sunrise at 7:18 a.m. and sunset at 5:23 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 33. [Weather.gov]
Clarendon is getting a new café and bar with an emphasis on outdoor drinking and dining.
Construction permits were approved earlier this summer for a new restaurant at 3303 Wilson Blvd, with expansive outdoor seating and a 120 square foot outdoor kiosk. The new establishment will be called “Bar Ivy” and will also feature a nearly 3,000 square foot indoor space on the ground floor, permit applications suggest.
Last October the County Board considered a request from the owner of the office building to allow an outdoor café and kiosk in an existing, sparsely-used plaza area along Wilson Blvd, near the intersection with N. Highland Street and catty-corner from the Clarendon Metro station.
From our reporting at the time:
The proposed café would have 125 seats outside and 59 seats inside, according to a county staff report.
“The outdoor café will occupy the majority of the existing plaza and be enclosed by moveable planters,” the staff report notes. “Although all existing trees will be maintained, the existing raised planter walls will be redesigned to accommodate the outdoor seating.”
The kiosk will serve “grab-and-go beverages” to both passersby as well as those dining at the outdoor café. It’s being considered by the County Board separately from the café.
“The kiosk will operate the same hours as the restaurant and outdoor café and will be located on private property at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North Highland Street,” the staff report says.
According to a county staff report, the approval was granted on the condition that it applies to just one restaurant operator: a company called Meowlington LLC.
The LLC was formed in March 2020 by Greg Algie, records show. Algie was a business partner in the former Fado Irish Pub in D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood and is the founder of Blagden Hospitality Group, the company behind a number of trendy D.C. restaurants including Tiger Fork, Calico, The Fainting Goat and Primrose.
Construction permits for the new restaurant were issued to Hospitality Construction Services, which counts Tiger Fork among its former projects. The company’s past projects also include the Ballston Quarter food hall and The Italian Store.
Outside 3033 Wilson Blvd today, fencing was up around the plaza and some excavation activity could be seen. Adjacent to the plaza, doors to an under-construction ground floor space were propped open.
There’s no word on when how long construction might take nor when the new restaurant may open, though such projects usually take a few months at a minimum.
A PR rep for Blagden Hospitality Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Arlington County says it will explore ways to make it easier for restaurants to establish or expand outdoor dining after the pandemic ends, according to a county report.
During the pandemic, the Arlington County Board approved a temporary way for restaurants to circumvent the normally lengthy county process for getting an outdoor dining permit. Many restaurants debuted outdoor seating over the last year to make up for the indoor space lost to social distancing requirements and give guests a safer dining experience.
Since then, the County Board has amended the outdoor dining ordinance to expand it and mold it to changing circumstances.
In December, the Board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs) in common areas, such as plazas. When capacity restrictions were lifted this spring, the County Board gave restaurants a way to request temporary certificates of occupancy (TCOs) for their TOSAs so they could operate the seating areas while operating at full capacity indoors.
The county report said staff will be looking to see if some aspects of the program could be worked into the regular outdoor seating approval process. It did not include a timeline for this inquiry.
“Specifically, staff will be working to commence a strategic exploration of whether certain flexibilities provided as part of the TOSA program initiated in response to the COVID-19 emergency should be incorporated into established regulatory provisions for outdoor dining,” it said. “This future process will have a robust engagement element and would also include public hearings prior to the County Board’s consideration of any recommended policy or regulatory changes that might result from the study,”
All this is being considered in the background of a technical change that will give restaurateurs a little leeway in phasing out the outdoor seating when the local pandemic emergency is declared over.
When the county passed a continuity of governance emergency ordinance last spring to keep government and business operations afloat, it said any flexibility allowed by the ordinance, such as TOSAs, would expire six months after the declared end of the emergency. But in reality, the document’s section on TOSAs said they expire with the declared end of the emergency.
On Saturday, the County Board is slated to consider advertising a public hearing to amend the ordinance so it’s clear that eateries also have six months to phase out the seating.
“In addition to providing consistency with the Ordinance and continued support of Arlington’s businesses, this proposed amendment will also ensure that food establishments are not required, immediately at the end of the emergency, to make significant changes to their operations and allows time for business planning,” the county report said.
Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber supports this change but urged the county to get cracking on the study of permanent options.
“Given the time it will take for Arlington County to set the rules for permanent, expanded outdoor dining, and the further time it will take for restaurants to adapt to new rules, the Chamber encourages Arlington County to advance its work on making the TOSA program permanent,” she said. “While the 2022 outdoor dining season feels far off as the summer of 2021 winds down, restaurants will need to start making investments soon to be prepared in the spring.”
As part of the upcoming request to advertise, staff said they will do outreach to see how locals feel about TOSAs. Staff report fielding a range of comments, questions and opinions on them, from support from the business community to concern that outdoor dining makes it harder for pedestrians and cyclists to get around. The report said neighbors near TOSAs tolerate the noise associated with them provided that TOSAs would end along with the emergency.
Bates said making the provisions permanent will allow restaurants to invest in their spaces in ways that could mitigate these concerns.
“We expect that there will be some refinements to the outdoor dining rules as they are made permanent, but we encourage Arlington County not to risk the success of outdoor dining by over-regulating to ameliorate any possible complaint,” she said.
(Updated 4:05 p.m.) Arlington restaurants can now apply to increase the number of diners they are permitted to serve indoors and outdoors, according to Arlington Economic Development.
The county is allowing restaurants to temporarily up their maximum capacity so that the eateries can keep using — and possibly expand — their pandemic-era temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs), even as indoor capacity restrictions have lifted, the AED newsletter to local businesses said.
Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, praised the decision.
“The Chamber of Commerce applauds the county for moving forward to extend TOSAs in way that works for restaurants and the community,” Bates said. “We shared this with our member restaurants, and they are very pleased. Some made big investment in TOSA areas and they’re able to use that to draw in more customers.”
When restaurants prepared to reopen last summer, they needed outdoor dining to make up for the space they lost inside to social distancing requirements. Additionally, the format had a lower risk of transmission than indoor dining.
So in May 2o2o, the Arlington County Board approved a process through which restaurants could obtain a permit to set up these seating areas, provided that they met fire and safety codes. In December, the board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up in common areas, such as plazas.
One year later, capacity restrictions governing Virginia restaurants have lifted. In Arlington, that means restaurants still using their TOSAs could technically exceed their permitted occupancy maximums. So the county is allowing restaurants to request a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) for their TOSAs, which will allow them to operate these seating areas while also operating at full capacity indoors.
The TCOs will expire with the TOSAs, which will remain in operation at least through 2021. The seating areas are permitted by the county’s Continuity of Government Ordinance, which will run for six months beyond the declared end of the pandemic.
“We really can’t emphasize enough that, even though TOSAs were helpful, restaurants still faced incredible losses and decimation,” Bates said. “In 2021, restaurants still need support from the losses over the last 16 months.”
But restaurant owners can’t run out and set up more outdoor seating just yet. Inspections, permits and amendments will be required to make these changes, according to AED.
Those interested in getting a temporary occupancy permit should schedule a free code consultation with the county, the economic development agency said.
“To ensure the safety of all restaurant staff and patrons, the Virginia Building and Fire Prevention Code regulates capacity limitations,” said AED. “For this reason, the ability to obtain a TCO for a TOSA will depend on a restaurant’s individual circumstances and existing indoor and/or outdoor capacity.”
Those interested in expanding their TOSAs must also submit an amendment to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which regulates liquor sales in these seating areas, the newsletter said. TOSAs approved for liquor sales will be able to serve drinks at least for through the end of 2021.
But the processes put in place last year did not work for all restaurants. The owner of Summers Restaurant said delays in TOSA permitting are one reason why the establishment closed last year.
And Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher said application troubles and fire codes made it impossible to seat his Arlington guests outside and keep them warm — without breaking the law.
Going forward, Bates said the Chamber wants to see the county “make it work” for restaurants facing extra hurdles, rather than coming up reasons for barring them from participating. The process needs to be a streamlined “not just on paper but in practice,” she said.
Eventually, the Chamber would like to see these outdoor seating areas become permanent parts of local codes, she said.
“This is community-building,” Bates said. “Outdoor dining makes Arlington vibrant and promotes other community interactions.”
The County Board has granted restaurant and bar owners more leeway as to where they can set up and winterize outdoor seating.
Owners will now be able to set up temporary outdoor seating areas — or TOSAs — in common areas, such as plazas, following a vote during the recessed County Board meeting on Tuesday.
In May, when the County first established a program to allow TOSAs to respond to the pandemic, the seating on sidewalks and patios had to be associated with specific restaurants and bars.
The decision to give restaurants more space and flexibility is partly in response to a request from representatives of a plaza in Shirlington to open the space to outdoor seating for several nearby restaurants.
“Businesses have discovered another dimension of work in this enhanced environment,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said during the meeting. “I believe for the most part they are working very well, I’m very thankful for the enhancement before us today.”
This seating arrangement could be here to stay, County Manager Mark Schwartz told the board.
“We may need to drop the ‘T’ in TOSA,” Schwartz said. “We’ll see.”
To keep this going post-pandemic, the County Board would have to codify it in the zoning ordinance, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said. This ordinance will last up to six months after the emergency is declared over.
Expanding seating options through TOSA will accelerate implementation and avoid the fees associated with existing county processes for approving outdoor seating, Anthony Fusarelli, assistant director for the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Urban Development, told ARLnow.
The change comes as County officials encourage restaurants, which have set up tents and heaters outside the new permitting process, to go through official channels.
“We’re finding propane heaters used and stored under tents, and tents not being set up under TOSA,” which is not allowed, Fusarelli told the County Board.
CPHD has received only a dozen tent requests through TOSA applications, which means owners may not be aware of the rules, or are going outside of them, Fusarelli said.
This spring, the County had 250 requests for outdoor dining “of some sort,” and 120 TOSA applications, Fusarelli said. Since the temporary program launched, his department has approved 93 TOSAs.
“We’re doing the best we can on our end to respond to requests,” Fusarelli said. “We approved the first applications late last week, and will approve more in the future.”
The change would especially help restaurants without space on their property to accommodate and winterize outdoor seating according to Virginia’s fire codes. Heaters have to be five feet from exits, awnings and tents, and only electric heaters are permitted under tents.
Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher, who said he has not heard back about his TOSA application, is still chafing against the restriction that prohibits propane heaters from being installed under tents.
He is doing it anyway, even though the Arlington County Fire Department has repeatedly asked the restaurant to turn the heaters off.
@ARLnowDOTcom @ArlingtonVA @ClarendonBros @Arlingtonfire This is simply inhumane. Not allowing outside heat whe it’s 40 degrees . Please talk to DC, MD and ALL other counties in VA. Your residents demand it , business needs it . @WTOP @washingtonpost #keeptheheat pic.twitter.com/lSJ2EdUA59
— Medium Rare (@MediumRareDC) December 8, 2020
“We have to because people are freezing,” Bucher told ARLnow. “If I stop, and I don’t heat the tents, I’m out of business.”