Update, 8:55 a.m. Friday
The Fairfax County Planning Commission has sidestepped a measure that would place new restrictions on restaurants that host dancing and other entertainment venues, saying the proposal needs further study.
The commission voted late Thursday to recommend deferral on a proposed ordinance amendment that would limit the size of dance floors to 150 square feet and create a new permitting scheme for banquet halls, dinner theatres, hookah bars and other entertainment venues.
The commission also urged county staff to come up with other ways to control the noise and other problems that have sprung up around some eating establishments that say they are restaurants with a dance floor but in fact operate as nightclubs with large and sometimes rowdy patrons.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation is not binding on the Board of Supervisors, which has the sole authority to amend the ordinance. A hearing on the proposed amendment is scheduled for Tuesday.
Original post, Thursday:
Fairfax County’s dance community is kicking up a fuss over a measure that would clamp down on dancing in restaurants and impose new regulations on other entertainment venues.
Hundreds of dancing enthusiasts, instructors and business owners say the county is going too far, and some have also raised allegations that the county is targeting establishments popular with minorities. Many have joined an online petition and a Facebook group or used Twitter to mobilize opposition against the proposed amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance.
“I think up to this point, the culture clash was with the Latino culture. Now the clash is with the dance culture,” said David Norton, 35, who is a dance instructor at Picante, a restaurant in Chantilly, and who started the online petition. “Every day it’s growing.”
By Thursday afternoon, the petition listed more than 1,400 signatures, the Facebook group “Save Dancing in Fairfax County!” had attracted nearly 400 members, and Twitter feeds urged followers to flood the county with emails.
Their concerns have been heard. On the eve of action Thursday by the Planning Commission, a county official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said planning staff are rethinking a key feature of the proposed ordinance amendment that would limit the size of an eating establishment’s dance floor to 150 square feet or 1/8 of the dining area, whichever is smaller. To get a permit for a larger dance floor, a business would have to apply for a special exception permit, whose fee alone costs $16,375.
Members of the dancing community said the proposed new size restrictions appear to be based on the notion that three square feet per dancer should be the maximum amount of space allotted for a dance floor — and they say that would be barely enough for a wallflower.
“It’s basically standing and taking one step,” Jennifer Gonzalez, 40, a salsa enthusiast who also blogs about dancing. “There’s very few dances you could do in this space.”
Gonzalez, who lives in Ashburn and dances regularly at Picante, said the new regulations could wipe out dancing at many venues, either because it would be impractical to host dancing with such a small dance floor or prohibitively expensive to apply for a special exception.
The proposed amendment has been in the works for nearly a year. County officials say the proposed amendment is needed to rein in establishments that call themselves restaurants but function as large nightclubs and disturb neighborhoods with noise, drunken behavior and other problems. Teams of county code enforcement officials and police, saying they have only been acting on neighborhood complaints, have targeted several such establishments in an coordinated effort to bring them into compliance or close them down.
Among those targeted were Terra E Mare Bar and Grill in Seven Corner, the Star Lounge & Ballroom in Annandale, and Fast Eddie’s, a pool hall that also hosted large dances in the Alexandria section of the county. Norton, a Bethesda resident who teaches at the Washington Dance Institute and Joy of Motion, said a strike team also cited against Picante last fall while he was giving lessons there.
Norton and others testified against the proposed ordinance amendment last week during a Feb. 24 hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission. On Thursday, the Planning Commission is scheduled to decide whether to recommend passage to the Board of Supervisors, which has the final say.
The proposed ordinance amendment would require eating establishments to demonstrate that dancing or billiards or other entertainment was only incidental to dining. Only one billiard table would be permitted in a dining area with up to 4,000 square feet and only two billiard tables in any dining area with 4,000 square feet or more. It would also place new restrictions on banquet halls, dinner theaters, and any establishment whose primary business was dancing, karaoke, smoking hookahs, or similar entertainment.
Zoning officials said the county was long overdue in reevaluating the ordinance on restaurant dance floors, which was written in 1975. Back then, most restaurants were small. But in recent years, some establishments that call themselves restaurants have become huge, opening the door to much bigger dance floors.
The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday March 6.
Staff writer Tom Jackman also contributed to this story.