The Leesburg Town Council is hoping to make economic recovery for its restaurants a bit easier, loosening requirements for outdoor dining.
Council members Tuesday night unanimously passed a temporary modification of Zoning Ordinance requirements for outdoor dining areas at restaurants. The temporary changes give existing restaurants town-wide the opportunity to apply for a no-fee temporary use permit. According to a staff report, restaurant owners would need to demonstrate to the town staff how they propose to set up their outdoor dining, and the layout would need to comply with Gov. Ralph Northam’s 50 percent occupancy mandate in the phase 1 reopening plan that has been approved to take effect in Northern Virginia on Friday. The outdoor dining setup must comply with requirements regarding emergency access, regulations by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control, and social distancing and Health Department rules. Permission from the property owner would also need to be obtained.
Under the guidelines established by the council, restaurant owners could take advantage of public sidewalks or parking spaces to set up outdoor dining, as long as all necessary regulations and set-up criteria are met. Town staff members, according to the report, have also explored setting up an outdoor food court area in public parking spaces in the historic downtown area. The cost to run a food court dining area is estimated to be as much as $5,000 per weekend, based on weekend hours only with rented tables, chairs, and tents. The town staff would run the operations of the food court dining area to ensure that the required physical distancing, disinfecting, and other protocols are met.
The food court idea is still being explored, Town Manager Kaj Dentler said Wednesday, with the public parking lot at the intersection of Church and Loudoun streets a potential option. Dentler said the food court would operate during daytime hours only, no alcoholic beverages would be permitted to be consumed within the area, and there would be no wait staff from restaurants delivering food or beverages to the table. Instead, it could be an option for customers of restaurants who may not be able to provide outdoor dining on site, or for customers to purchase carryout at a restaurant and then stay downtown to consume it.
The staff report notes that the temporary outdoor dining permits would be automatically suspended if an executive order mandates a return to phase zero. The permits will also expire upon an executive order that declares that indoor dining may resume at full capacity; the repeal or expiration of the town’s Continuity of Government ordinance; or the repeal by the Town Council of the resolution establishing the outdoor dining temporary use permit.