Temporary Outdoor Seating Area Permit

Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSAs) are newly created or expanded exterior spaces at restaurants, bars, or cafés.

TOSA Permits Extended Through February 2023

TOSAs were established to help restaurants and business establishments expand outdoor seating capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. A provision within the Continuity of Governance Ordinance accommodates TOSAs for six months after the County Manager declares the end of the local emergency. While the TOSA program may extend longer than six months, the County has committed to extending it at least through February 2023.

Under the TOSA guidelines in place since July 2020, the combined number of indoor and outdoor patrons served at any given time cannot exceed the indoor capacity OR the indoor and outdoor capacity if the restaurant had an existing outdoor café.

Restaurants that wish to seat indoor dining rooms at 100 percent of the capacity llisted on their Certificate of Occupancy (CO) and continue to operate a TOSA at any capacity MUST apply for a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO). The first step to obtain a TCO is to schedule a free code consultation with Arlington’s Inspection Services Division (ISD) to discuss capacity, layout, and related details. Code consultations may be scheduled by completing a request form and emailing it to arlcoisdpr@arlingtonva.us.

NOTE: To ensure the safety of all restaurant staff and patrons, Virginia Building and Fire Prevention Code regulates capacity limitations. For this reason, the ability to obtain a TCO for a TOSA will depend on a restaurant’s individual circumstances and existing indoor and/or outdoor capacity. Receiving a TCO does not increase the allowed indoor seating capacity. The existing Certificate of Occupancy still applies to indoor seating limits.

Alcohol sales in temporary outdoor seating areas are regulated by Virginia ABC. Businesses interested in serving alcoholic beverages in their TOSA should contact Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control Authority (VA ABC).

To report concerns about possible non-compliance issues in public spaces, submit an online report. County enforcement teams will follow up. Using the online form is the preferred alternative to calling the County’s non-emergency number.

Read FAQs about the latest TOSA update

 

Existing TOSA Permits
  • Businesses with approved permits and a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, if applicable, can continue to operate their TOSAs through February 15, 2023 (with the same number of seats and seating configuration).
  • Businesses with existing permits that want to make changes to an existing TOSA should submit a new Temporary Outdoor Seating Area Permit Application to TOSA@arlingtonva.us, and clearly note the existing TOSA approval number in the application and email.
New TOSA Permits
Eligibility
  • All existing restaurants, bars, and cafes with a valid Certificate of Occupancy may apply.
  • Existing outdoor seating is not a prerequisite.
  • Expansion of an existing outdoor seating area requires a TOSA permit for the expanded area.
  • Existing, permitted outdoor seating areas that are not expanding do not require a TOSA permit.
  • Rooftop spaces are not eligible.
    • New rooftop spaces must apply through standard County permitting processes.

     

Design & Operation Guidelines

  • TOSAs must be contiguous with or within 100 feet from the subject restaurant.
  • Seating capacity for TOSAs are as follows:
    • For businesses with only an indoor Certificate of Occupancy (CO), the total patrons served at any one time either indoor and/or outdoor cannot exceed the capacity on the indoor CO or the Temporary CO for the TOSA.
    • For businesses with both an indoor CO and an outdoor CO, the total patrons served at any one time cannot exceed the combined capacities stated on both COs or the Temporary CO for the TOSA.
  • Public sidewalks must allow a minimum of six feet for accessible pedestrian passage. Alternatively, parking lanes may be used as noted below.
  • Where appropriate, repurposing parking lanes may add flexibility.
    • Closure of curbside parking to accommodate pedestrian travel may be considered. However, given the need to maintain accessibility in the pedestrian network, priority will be given to neighbors who have coordinated a plan with a uniform treatment across a block.
    • Alternatively, the use of a parklet for outdoor seating may be considered. However, given the need to maintain safety for all patrons, additional physical barriers and review of these proposals may be required
  • TOSAs may not impede existing fire lanes, access, egress, FPE, hydrants, etc.
  • The layout should minimize encroachment into active public gathering areas or spaces utilized for other public events or programming.
  • All tables, chairs, and barriers must be placed on a paved and flat surface and should not impact any utilities, parking meters, signs, streetlights, or street trees.
  • A five-foot-wide clear path should be provided from the building entrance to the curb to maintain delivery and curbside pick-up operations.
  • Umbrellas, canopies, or awnings should not hang over adjacent clear paths designated for public circulation.
  • Establishments serving alcohol must meet requirements outlined by Virginia ABC.
  • TOSAs involving an ABC permit may not be shared by multiple establishments.
  • Live entertainment, gaming activities, TVs, and piped-in or amplified music are not permitted.
  • Furnishings and any physical improvements must be temporary in nature and should not require a building permit or the like.
  • Pathways to and from restroom facilities must be clear and accessible.
  • Alcohol sales within a TOSA are permitted between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily.

 

Additional Guidelines for TOSAs on Public Sidewalks

  • All tables, chairs and barriers must be placed on a paved and flat surface and should not block entrances, exits, fire lanes, hydrants, sprinkler connection points, drive aisles, pedestrian or handicapped access.
  • All tables and associated furnishings must fit within the existing streetscape and should not impact any utilities, parking meters, signs, street lights or street trees.
  • A five-foot-wide clear path should be provided from the building entrance to the curb to maintain delivery and curbside pick-up operations.
  • Umbrellas, canopies, or awnings should not hang over adjacent clear paths designated for public circulation.
  • A minimum six-foot-wide ADA-accessible sidewalk must be maintained for pedestrian passage.

Additional Guidelines for TOSAs within On-street Parking Lanes

  • TOSAs may extend into on-street parking lanes to create a “parklet” enclosure for a TOSA while providing the necessary ADA accommodations and six-foot minimum clear width of the public sidewalk. A “parklet” must provide crashworthy vertical protection (provided by the business) to the seating area.
  • TOSAs may extend into on-street parking lanes when they are coordinated with other TOSA applications to allow for a conversion of the on-street parking lane for an entire block where an on-road bicycle lane separates the travel lane from the parking lane. The TOSA area should be physically separated from the bike lane by a simple fence.
  • Individual TOSAs for each establishment will need to be physically separated.
  • Physical barriers, except for a “parklet” setup, will be provided by the County. Installation will be scheduled upon approval of the permit. Lead time depends on resource level and weather.
  • All tables and associated furnishings must not extend beyond the established TOSAs.

Additional Guidelines for TOSAs in Public Spaces (plazas, courtyards, parks)

  • TOSAs may expand into public plazas or areas with public access easements.
  • The layout of TOSAs should minimize encroachment into active public gathering areas or spaces utilized for other public events, programming, and/or egress. The County has the authority to limit TOSA size in this event.
  • All tables and associated furnishings must fit within the existing space not requiring relocation or removal of major design features, trees, plantings, etc.
  • All tables and associated furnishings must be placed on a paved surface and should not block entrances, exits, fire lanes, hydrants, sprinkler connection points, pedestrian or handicapped access.
  • A minimum six-foot-wide sidewalk must be maintained for pedestrian passage.

Additional Guidelines for TOSAs in Private Property Areas

  • TOSAs may be located in outdoor private property areas (i.e. plazas, courtyards, etc.) with owner’s permission.
  • TOSAs may be located in off-street parking spaces in outdoor parking lots on private property with owner’s permission when parking lot is not exclusively controlled (leased) by the business.
  • Tables, chairs, and associated furnishings must be placed on a paved surface and should not block drive aisles, fire lanes, or entry/exit points to a building or parking lot.
  • If possible, TOSAs should be located in the corner of a parking lot to minimize conflict between pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

Additional Guidelines for Coordinated Pedestrian Circulation

  • Curbside parking spaces within the public right-of-way may be used for pedestrian circulation when permitted by the County with the provision that necessary and appropriate safety and ADA accessible accommodations are maintained.
  • This new circulation zone must be protected from the adjacent travel lane through the installation and maintenance of traffic barricades, wheel stops and/or flexible bollards as approved by the County.
  • Temporary pavement markings and signs could also help define paths for social distancing and zones for curbside pick-up and delivery.
  • A minimum 6-foot-wide ADA-accessible pedestrian pathway should be maintained for public passage. If the pathway leads pedestrian to traverse a curb, proper ADA ramps must be provided.

Additional Guidelines for Outdoor Heaters & Tents

Portable Outdoor Gas-Fired Heating Appliances

  • An annual Fire Prevention Code Permit is required for the storage and/or use of LP-Gas. Find the permit application here and submit it to the Fire Prevention Office.
  • After review of the permit application, an onsite inspection must be scheduled and satisfactorily completed before the Fire Prevention Code Permit is issued.
  • REMINDER: LP-Gas Heaters must be placed more than 5 feet from buildings, combustibles, exits, or discharges and adhere to the manufacturer’s guidance.

Tents

  • Typically, tents are temporary, and so, the County’s building and fire codes allow placement for only 180 days within a 12-month period. To address these codes, Arlington County has developed the following policy:
    • Structures less than 120 square feet are allowed through the TOSA process and may remain in place for the duration of the TOSA.
    • Tents larger than 900 square feet, tents on rooftops, and structures more than 120 square feet require permits. Schedule a code consultation with the Inspection Services Division (ISD) to discuss.
    • For temporary tents larger than 120 square feet but less than 900 square feet:
      • Businesses may apply through the Fire Prevention Office for a permit for the placement of a new temporary tent.
      • If a permit was previously approved, businesses must wait 180 days (6 months) after the removal of the previously approved tent to install a newly approved temporary tent.
      • Applications must include the required information on the checklist. Find the application and checklist here.
  • REMINDER: If, at any time, an establishment violates the Virginia State Fire Code (e.g., propane heaters under the tent), the Fire Code Modification will be revoked. 

 

Submission Requirements

  • A depiction of the existing site, including an aerial map, photographs, and if available, a survey plat, drawings or plans.
  • A depiction of the proposed TOSA, including a plat or site plan that shows:
    • Site conditions, including any streetscape items (tree pits, light poles, hydrants, fixed benches, parking meters, etc.)
    • Dimensions of TOSA (length x width)
    • Distance between TOSA and restaurant entrance (must be less than 100 feet)
    • Number and location of tables and seats (min. six-foot distance between tables)
    • Points of access/egress
    • Location of barrier surrounding TOSA (required if alcohol consumption is proposed)
    • Dimension of clear sidewalk for pedestrian passage on public sidewalks (min. six feet)
    • Other temporary elements such as tents, canopies, umbrellas, planters, etc.
    • Portable outdoor heaters, if any
    • Any parking restriction requests (this may result in an accompanying TROW permit)
  • If applicant has access, include a copy of existing Certificate of Occupancy and Capacity Certificate for interior restaurant (seating chart not required).
  • If applicable and applicant has access, include a copy of existing Certificate of Occupancy, Capacity Certificate, and seating chart for outdoor dining area.
  • If the creation or expansion of the TOSA will be located on private property not currently controlled by the business, provide a Statement of Consent from the property owner to include owner’s name, title, address, phone number, and email.
  • Each TOSA application should be submitted as a separate email.

Review Process and Approvals

TOSAs will be administratively reviewed and will not require approval by the County Board, even if located on sidewalks or other public property.

  • Applications received for TOSA on private property:
    • The County will issue a temporary approval in an expedited timeframe. This approval can be used to apply for a VA ABC Permit if the establishment proposes to serve alcohol.
    • Use of TOSA may begin while the County completes the review process. VA ABC approval is required to begin alcohol sales, if applicable.
    • Successful applications will be issued a TOSA Permit along with any applicable accompanying County permits.
  • Applications received for TOSA on public property:
    • The County will complete a review of applications on public property and notify applicants if a temporary Right-of-Way Permit or other permit application is required. The review of both will happen concurrently to meet faster turnaround times.
    • Successful applications will be issued a TOSA Permit along with any applicable accompanying County permits. This approval can be used to apply for a VA ABC Permit if the establishment proposes to serve alcohol.
    • Use of the TOSA may begin after the County completes the review process.
  • Applicants will receive a permit placard by email.
  • Placards must be printed by the applicant and posted in a visible location at the TOSA.

Fees

The County is not charging any fees to review and process TOSA applications.

Expiration and Terminations

  • TOSA Permits may be revoked at any time for non-compliance with TOSA Operation Requirements.
  • Arlington County’s TOSA Permits are valid until the County determines otherwise. They will be subject to periodic review, and may be terminated at any time, especially if detrimental impacts to neighboring properties and the broader community cannot be effectively mitigated.
  • Failure to comply is a class one misdemeanor with a fine of up to $2,500, or jail sentence up to 12 months.

 

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