ARLINGTON COUNTY, Va. — With Northern Virginia restaurants set to reopen Friday to outdoor dining only, businesses without outside seating were left wondering what they could do.
The Arlington County Board responded by approving a new process Tuesday that allows restaurants to apply for Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas, or TOSAs. With the permit, restaurants could place seats on sidewalks outside of their business, and even redirect pedestrian traffic into parking lanes.
"Certainly we are looking to continue to ensure safe physical environments for the public at large," Anthony Fusarelli, assistant director for the Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Urban Development, said. "Importantly, we’re also focused on the business community and understanding the difficult times that they’re enduring, with this newfound opportunity to expand slightly and ramp up its business activity, trying to provide some sort of guardrails or guidelines on how they can do that."
Fusarelli said restaurant owners will have to fill out the county's application, provide a diagram of what their outdoor area would look like, and include the number of seats and tables there would be. He said the new process expedites the time it would typically take to get a permit like that approved, which can often be 60 days.
Fusarelli said there are different applications for private versus public property, but once either is approved, they are sent to the Virginia ABC Board. Per ABC rules, the restaurant will have to cordon the drinking and eating area from pedestrians walking by. And, per the permit, owners will have to work with the county to put up barriers between pedestrians redirected to parking lanes and cars driving by.
Fusarelli also suggested that restaurant owners on the same block coordinate their plans for a faster approval process.
Over in Montgomery County, the Bethesda Urban Partnership has been pushing for an alternative to permits -- public outdoor seating areas.
"Our goal is to get tables and chairs on public streets, and once the tables and chairs are on public streets, that means those tables and chairs are available to any patron, so they can go to any restaurant that they want to go to and pick up food and beverage and use one of those tables," Stephanie Coppula, director of marketing and communication for Bethesda Urban pPartnership, said.
When it comes to sanitizing the tables and chairs, and making sure they stay physically distanced, Coppula said she's hoping that will be a dual effort by restaurants and the county.
But, Montgomery County, which the County Executive said Wednesday is not opening Friday, said they are still considering different options.
A spokesperson sent the following statement:
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is coordinating with the Bethesda Urban Partnership for possible use of County street space to support businesses reopening in Bethesda once directives are given to gradually reopen the County. MCDOT is initiating similar conversations with other business districts that face County streets like Germantown, North Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton.
Roberto Pietrobono, who owns multiple restaurants in the county, like Olazzo, is on board with the idea, hoping the initiative fills the seats that have been empty for months.
"It gives the smaller restaurants, the ones that don’t have any outdoor space, as much equal footing as possible," Pietrobono said. "So, it’s going to bring in more income."