For the third time in the past decade, Leesburg planning commissioners are considering whether to allow tents and shade structures for downtown restaurants.
In the past two instances, in 2008 and 2013, the commission both times recommended against expanding the use of tents downtown. Currently, tents are allowed on a temporary basis or for business special events.
But, the growth of the downtown restaurant industry, coupled with the emergence of a thriving craft brewery community, has led some to wonder whether the third time may be the charm. Thursday night, commissioners kicked off review of whether to allow a Zoning Ordinance amendment to allow tents and shade structures on a more permanent basis for restaurant and food uses downtown, which would include breweries.
The discussion of shade structures is a relatively new concept for the commission this time around. The canopy-like structures would shield patrons from the sun during the warm weather months and provide some protection from the other weather elements year-round.
Commissioners are considering whether to allow the two types of structures at all, and if so, their locations, size, types of material, and what government body would have review authority over them. On Thursday, the commission seemed more enthusiastic about the introduction of shade structures rather than tents, but all noted they would want anything approved that conflicted with the historic nature of the downtown. The commission initially seems comfortable with handing over review to the town staff, but said bringing the Board of Architectural Review in to help establish design guidelines was an important next step.
Now, the matter will go before the BAR, likely in December, for its input. The matter would then return to the Planning Commission in January for a public hearing, where business owners and interested members of the public will be invited to weigh in.
Ultimately, the decision on whether to expand the use of shade structures and tents downtown rests with the Town Council, which has final approval authority. In 2008, the council voted against the matter and, in 2013, took no further action following the commission’s recommendation of denial.