Northern Virginia Prepares for Phase 1 of “Forward Virginia Plan”

May 29, 2020

Beginning May 29, 2020, Northern Virginia entered Phase 1 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia Plan.” Phase 1 permits greater use of outdoor spaces, particularly for restaurants and health clubs. Use of those spaces will be subject to occupancy and social distancing limits outlined in the plan.

Maximizing Phase 1 outdoor space provisions also requires greater flexibility in current zoning approvals and regulations governing use of outdoor spaces in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions. The majority of these jurisdictions have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, changes to allow that flexibility. Efforts in Arlington County, the city of Alexandria, Fairfax County and Loudoun County are summarized below.

Arlington County

On May 26, the Arlington County Board approved an ordinance allowing restaurants to apply for temporary outdoor seating area permits as part of Phase 1. Under this ordinance, Arlington County staff can approve temporary outdoor seating area permit applications expeditiously through an administrative process. Businesses proposing temporary outdoor seating areas located on private property will receive temporary approval shortly after submitting their applications, at which time they may establish those seating areas. Businesses proposing temporary outdoor seating areas on public property will need to wait for administrative approval from Arlington County staff before establishing these temporary seating areas.

The Arlington Board’s action will allow restaurants to serve customers in outdoor areas while indoor dining remains prohibited.

Restaurants can apply for permits, free of charge, by following the procedures outlined on the county’s website.

City of Alexandria

In anticipation of Phase 1, the City of Alexandria announced a temporary program to expand restaurant outdoor dining areas, effective May 29, 2020. Subject to review by the Department of Planning and Zoning, the City will temporarily suspend enforcement of certain code requirements for the use of public right-of-way areas — on-street parking spaces, sidewalks and parking lots — to permit outdoor dining. Once permit applications are reviewed and approved by City staff, the expanded outdoor seating will be available for 90 days, subject to change upon the decision of the City Manager.

Restaurants can apply, free of charge, using this form.

Fairfax County

On May 28, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an emergency ordinance to provide significant flexibility for restaurants and health clubs reopening, subject to Phase 1. For both uses, businesses may expand their outdoor occupancy, subject to certain parameters, without further approvals from Fairfax County. This includes using any existing paved areas, such as parking spaces, for outdoor seating. Health clubs can also utilize existing grass areas.

More information on specific provisions and requirements is included in the Fairfax County ordinance.

Loudoun County

On May 28, Loudoun County issued guidance for restaurants seeking to expand outdoor seating during Phase 1. Expanding a restaurant’s outdoor seating is subject to Loudoun County approval of a temporary outdoor seating permit application. Restaurants can apply for such a permit, free of charge, but must include a sketch of the expanded outdoor seating area. More information, including the application form, is available on the Loudoun County website.

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