A downtown Leesburg restaurant got special permission to use its CARES Act grant for the purchase of an awning for its King Street location.
According to Town Manager Kaj Dentler, the Wine Kitchen was one of 120 town eating and beverage establishments to receive a grant for tents or heaters during the upcoming winter months. The council in October approved a grant program, using its CARES Act federal stimulus legislation funding, to provide businesses with funding for the purchase or rental of tents and heaters during the current calendar year.
Dentler said Wine Kitchen owner Jason Miller approached him about using his grant to instead purchase a retractable awning, similar to the one at neighbor Black Hoof Brewing. That, combined with electric heaters, would create a more versatile, year-round outdoor atmosphere, he said. According to Town Attorney Christopher Spera, he did not see any meaningful distinction in the CARES Act or any related guidance that allowed the town to treat the application for a canopy differently from a tent, since both would be used for the same purpose—to add outdoor dining capacity due to indoor dining restrictions posed by the pandemic.
Miller said the awning will allow the restaurant to add two or three tables outside. While that may not sound like a lot, that equates to about a 25% increase in seating, since the restaurant currently only has six tables inside to comply with social distancing requirements.
To comply with the stipulations of the CARES legislation, a purchase would need to be made by year’s end, making a timely, yet required, Board of Architectural Review approval for the awning unlikely. Town staff explored whether the advertising for such a public hearing could be accelerated to meet the tight timeline, but Spera ruled it could not.
So Dentler used the powers granted to him under the current public health emergency to grant a temporary approval so the Wine Kitchen could move forward with the purchase of the awning. However, Miller still must seek and receive BAR approval for the structure to remain up. If the application for the awning is denied, and an appeal of that decision to the Town Council also denied, Miller would need to remove the awning.
Dentler said he directed Miller to file an application with the BAR “in all due speed,” but a public hearing on the matter is still not scheduled.
Miller is hopeful that the awning will be approved, particularly since the Wine Kitchen is using the same vendor as other businesses in the historic district. While he recognizes that January and its traditionally bitterly cold temperatures may make it difficult to utilize outdoor seating then, he hopes that having the awning for late winter and early spring will be a benefit. He said he plans to keep the awning up year-round.
“The town has been very helpful and cooperative,” Miller said. “I know a lot of people want to paint the opposite. This is a good example of being able to work with a business to come up with creative solutions.”