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Alexandria hoping to make new outdoor dining regulations less onerous

A pair of city policy changes — the new parklet program and a return to stricter regulations on outdoor dining — are coming together at a Planning Commission meeting next month in an effort to make the two pieces fit together.

City staff said in a memo that the upcoming changes represent the start of an effort to make the process of securing outdoor dining at one of the King Street parklets less complicated and slightly less restrictive.

“The proposed text amendments represent a coordination of the King Street Outdoor Dining Program (KSOD) requirements with the new parklet program to streamline standards that the two programs share,” the report said. “Staff plans future efficiencies for restaurants who are interested in the two programs by creating one application for the 2023 outdoor dining season.”

The KSOD Program technically started back in 2007, but received a significant boost during the pandemic as relaxed regulations led to restaurants opening seating areas on the sidewalk all along the street.

The Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) Parklet Program is much newer, starting last October. The program would allow for certain parking spaces along King Street to be swapped out with more outdoor dining space.

“Presently, staff is accepting applications for KSOD sidewalk dining and for commercial parklets to encourage restaurants to transition from the temporary outdoor business permits allowed under the City Council COVID-19 emergency authorization, and expire on September 30, to the permanent City program permits,” the memo said.

Beyond just King Street, several locations around Alexandria have been filing permits to convert their temporary outdoor spaces into permanent ones.

The proposal makes changes to the KSOD Program to bring it more in line with language in the newer parklet ordinance. For example: the KSOD ordinance required furniture be brought inside between Thanksgiving and the end of March, a requirement staff says can be eliminated given that the parklet allows outdoor dining furniture to be set up year-round. Another KSOD limit is a restriction on tall tables which would also be eliminated in the new language.

The blending of the new programs to make them more cohesive is scheduled for review at the Tuesday, Sept. 6 Planning Commission meeting.

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