The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed to take more time to study proposed rules governing restaurants that offer dancing Tuesday, following outcry from the county’s dance community.
Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D) said it was clear the county needs to take more time to educate the public, as well as revise the ordinance to be less restrictive.
“Clearly we just needed to give a little more time to the issue ... to make sure that we’re solving the problem that does exist and that we’re not unfairly affecting places that aren’t part of the problem,” she said.
Zoning staff originally proposed a requirement that would limit the maximum size of the dance floor at a restaurant to 150 square feet. Otherwise, the business must apply for a dance hall permit, which carries an application fee of $16,375. It also would shift the permitting process from one managed by the Board of Zoning Appeals to one requiring Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors approval.
Other segments of the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance also would affect pool halls, banquet halls, karaoke bars and hookah bars, but the proposed regulations on dancing grabbed the spotlight.
Hundreds of enthusiasts of salsa, swing, shag and ballroom dancing aligned to oppose the proposed regulations. They said the restrictions would further limit their ability to enjoy a night on the town, as local restaurants willing to stage dance nights are scarce.
However, some members of the Board of Supervisors and zoning enforcement staff still think the county needs a different way of regulating restaurants that offer dancing at night because some are taking advantage of current rules to operate as de facto nightclubs.
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), who has advocated for tighter restrictions since 2009, said he was disappointed with the delay. There are establishments in his district that generate a lot of complaints that are legal under the current rules.
McKay insisted a revised proposal come back to the board before the August recess.
“It’s been over three years,” he said. “That’s too long if you live next door to one of these places.”
Under current rules, a restaurant can use as much as one-eighth of its floor space as a dance floor without having to apply for a permit. According to zoning administrator Eileen McLane, the county is seeing more restaurants come in with large floor plans, allowing them to have hundreds of people dancing on the floor space.
Some of these facilities also have been associated with police activity, alcohol law violations, fire code violations and other problems.
“It became apparent that once a threshold size is met, the problems set in,” McLane said.
Last week, the Fairfax County Planning Commission asked for as long as a year to revise the proposal, saying the 150 square foot limitation was too restrictive.
“We may be spraying the whole county with DDT because of one fruit fly,” Commissioner Jim Hart (At Large) said of the proposal. “If we had more time ... I think we could develop a better recommendation.”
Hart noted the desire for a future “entertainment district” in Tysons Corner, and said he wants to ensure the county doesn’t discourage nightlife and reputable businesses.