Fairfax Co. OKs temporary outdoor dining setups to stay

Parts of Main Street and University Drive in Fairfax City have been turned into an outdoor dining area. (Courtesy Fairfax City Economic Development Authority/ Fairfax City)

Restaurants can continue to set up tables and chairs outside every day in Fairfax County, Virginia, as part of a plan the Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday afternoon.

It’s an extension of rules put in place during the peak of the pandemic. The county’s temporary ordinance for outdoor dining was scheduled to end March 1.

The zoning ordinance amendment allows businesses to use temporary outdoor spaces past that date. That means they can set up seating areas using stools, tables and chairs outside, as long as they’re removable.

Under the approved amendment, restaurants that want to use permanent outdoor furniture would have to get a site plan approved or get a building permit. A separate permit would also be needed for businesses that want to offer outdoor dining areas in part of a parking lot.

“So many of our restaurants in Fairfax County have made a lot of improvements to their outdoor dining, and many of those things have become kind of a permanent fixture of the operations,” said Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association. “The extension of this really helps them take care of customers who really enjoy that experience.”

The outdoor setups, according to the ordinance, have to be on impervious surfaces, such as patios or sidewalks, and “must be clearly demarcated by rope, bollards, planters, or other object.” They also can’t block fire equipment or building entrances and exits.

The size of the outdoor dining area has to be equal to or less than 50% of the restaurant’s indoor dining floor area.

Operating hours for outdoor areas will be “generally consistent with the business hours of the principal use,” according to the approved plan.

“The outdoor dining has been a way to draw in more customers to eat in the restaurant,” Terry said. “They’re quite happy with seeing this extended so they can continue to offer that.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify operating hours for outdoor dining areas.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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