Skip to content

Fairfax's outdoor-dining revamp reaches public-comment stage

Initiative would make permanent some COVID-era changes

Fairfax County officials are crafting a proposed zoning-ordinance amendment to make permanent some of the relaxed outdoor-dining rules implemented during the pandemic, but also address concerns about noise and the number of seats.

Lily Yegazu of the county’s Zoning Administration Division outlined the proposed outdoor-dining ordinance at virtual meetings Aug. 9 and 15, which were aimed at soliciting public input.

The Board of Supervisors during the pandemic tasked the Zoning Administration Division’s work program with finding ways to continue outdoor dining, fitness and other activities in parking areas.

Supervisors adopted an emergency ordinance allowing such activities, but this did not define outdoor dining. That ordinance sunsets in March 2024, but the outdoor-dining rules would be codified before then by the proposed ordinance, which would carry over many of the emergency measure’s provisions.

The county generally has treated outdoor seating as an accessory use that is allowed by-right in districts permitting restaurants and craft-beer-production establishments, Yegazu said.

County code currently exempts outdoor seating from parking requirements at establishments having less than 5,000 square feet of gross floor area and 20 or fewer seats or 32 seats for businesses with 5,000 or more square feet of gross floor area.

Dining establishments seeking additional outdoor seating must submit for approval at parking tabulation showing that existing on-site parking spaces fulfill minimum off-street parking requirements for all uses.

The proposed amendment would define outdoor dining as an accessory use intended only for food and drink consumption and would not allow permanent structures. All tables, chairs, umbrellas, tents, lighting and other accessories used for outdoor dining would need to be removable and kept in good appearance and condition.

Staff’s proposed ordinance would continue the approach used by the pandemic-era emergency ordinance to permit outdoor dining by-right on private property (subject to certain requirements) and a via administrative permit if the outdoor seating is located in a parking lot.

Outdoor dining would be allowed as an accessory use in all zoning districts, except where expressly prohibited by proffered or development conditions or special permits or special-exception conditions.

Outdoor dining would be allowed by-right on private property as long as that area did not exceed 50 percent of the establishment’s floor area for indoor dining. If an outdoor-seating area served multiple establishments, it could not exceed 50 percent of the combined floor area for indoor dining at those businesses. (The draft amendment gives supervisors a proposed range of between 25 and 75 percent of the indoor-dining area.)

Any outdoor-dining area would need to be located entirely on impervious surfaces and clearly demarcated by ropes, bollards, planters or other objects. These areas would not be allowed to obstruct access by pedestrians or the fire marshal.

The proposed ordinance would have outdoor-dining hours of operation match the times of establishments’  principal use, but not occur before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. if the outdoor seating is located directly adjacent to single-family neighborhoods or as stipulated by the Board of Supervisors as part of a rezoning or other action. (County staff also will offer supervisors an option to nix outdoor dining before 9 a.m. in locations directly adjacent to single-family developments.)

Arlington and Prince William counties and the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax permit outdoor dining via an administrative process that requires dining establishments to meet certain design guidelines. Similar rules also apply in Montgomery County, Md.

Those localities also charge establishments offering outdoor dining. Montgomery County levies a $775 initial-application fee, plus $250 per year. Alexandria charges a $150 one-time fee, while Fairfax, Arlington and Leesburg levy annual fees of $115, $125 and $100, respectively.

Fairfax County zoning staff are recommending a one-time $205 application fee for outdoor dining, which would match the rate charged for temporary uses. Staff will suggest a range of between $100 and $205 for the fee.

The proposed rules do not have a public-entertainment element.

County zoning staff members are not proposing to require additional parking for outdoor dining, regardless of the establishment’s size, which would be consistent with the proposed Parking Reimagined zoning ordinance.

County officials will revise the proposed text based on public feedback and hold public hearings on the proposed ordinance in early 2024.

Those with further questions about the proposal can contact Yegazu at or (703) 324-1314.

The Aug. 9 virtual meeting did not draw any questions from viewers. The Aug. 15 meeting will take place at 3 p.m. For a link and passcodes to attend that meeting, plus learn more about the proposed zoning-ordinance amendment, visit and search for “outdoor dining.”