Downtown Warrenton

Warrenton has blocked off on-street parking spaces downtown to accommodate more seating for local restaurants. State restrictions limit restaurant seating to 50% of the outdoor capacity during Phase One of reopening in the pandemic. 

 

If Northern Virginia enters Phase One of the state’s reopening plan May 29 as is currently planned, restaurants in Manassas could be getting a lot more space to work with.

A resolution that passed the city council Monday night gives the city authority to repurpose public parking and street space for outdoor dining for 30 days. Restaurants in other parts of the state began using 50% of their outdoor seating capacity May 15. The resolution could mean that restaurants in Old Town and throughout the city will get additional outdoor dining and drinking space when Northern Virginia is expected to enter Phase One later this month.

“Everybody I think understands that this is an effort by council to allow us to have some flexibility so [restaurants] can become profitable as quickly as possible when they’re allowed to reopen for more than just carry out,” City Manager Patrick Pate told the council Monday night. 

The resolution did not lay out which streets or parking spaces would be converted, but Pate said that process would likely run through the city’s community development office. 

A process for restaurants near private property is being put into place. With the property owner’s permission, restaurants can apply for a permit through the city’s planning office that would allow them to create outdoor dining space in strip malls or other private developments. 

The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Authority has already relaxed regulations on outdoor alcohol service, allowing restaurants and bars to expand the area in which they can serve drinks without applying for an entirely new permit. And Liz Via-Gossman, the city’s head of community development, said that the ABC change will allow the city to get somewhat creative about how it uses public space.

“The space doesn’t have to be exactly contiguous, but has to be within 100 feet, so that gives us some flexibility to use parking spaces or portions of the Harris Pavilion or a parking lot that we would not normally have,” Via-Gossman said.

Street closures can be an inconvenience for some drivers, but Pate said that the city has closed streets downtown many times and most drivers will likely understand if they have to take a short detour. 

“During events we have shut down all of those streets, on our First Fridays and many of our major events they have been shut down,” Pate said. “So we will be looking at how to balance out the needs of the community with the needs of the restaurants. My personal opinion is that a lot of the community will probably be a little more amenable to some things being inconvenient to them as we try to help our businesses come back to life.”

A number of other towns and cities already in Phase One around the state have undertaken similar initiatives. In Warrenton, bars and restaurants have expanded their outdoor dining and drinking space into the town’s Main Street, where parking has been removed through a temporary zoning change. 

On Friday afternoon, patrons of the local bar and coffee shops could be seen enjoying drinks sitting in what was formerly a parking spot. 

In Manassas, Pate said the city would do what it could to bring back the dining scene once the state lifts its restrictions.

“We’re going to be as flexible as we can to help businesses open up and become profitable,” he said.

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