This story was corrected on Thursday, April 5 at 10 a.m. An explanation follows the story.
Fairfax County planners are continuing to grapple with the tension between those who want to crack down on restaurants that become nuisance nightclubs at night and those who don’t want to chase out dance groups that have weekly gatherings at other restaurants.
Although it is possible to get a permit to have a nightclub (or “dance hall,” in zoning parlance) in Fairfax County, some establishments are zoned as restaurants and might have DJs, bands or other entertainment at night. Under current rules, such businesses can do this without a permit, provided they do not use more than one-eighth of the floor space for dancing.
The problem, according to county zoning administrator Eileen McLane, is that for certain establishments nearly as big as “big box” retail stores, one-eighth of the floor space can fit a large number of people.
When the county tried to change its approach earlier this year, however, the measure met resistance from recreational dancers, who feared they would be run out of the county. The proposed changes were tabled.
Now, a panel consisting of county staff, planning commissioners, land use attorneys and dance community advocates is working to strike a delicate balance that achieves both goals.
The goal is “not have nightclubs where they’re not appropriate and not disturb the people who aren’t being disruptive,” said Commissioner Ken Lawrence.
The panel members, who met for the first time on Monday, said they want to find a way for county staff to determine whether something is an “accessory use” — meaning no special permission is needed — that isn’t based on the amount of floor area used for dancing.
Among the options they are considering are looking at how often a restaurant stages events and possibly placing restrictions on the location and hours of dancing. For example, a club might be allowed without a permit in some industrial districts, or a restaurant in a shopping center could have to end their dance night by 11 p.m.
A long-term option would be to have a separate body that licenses nightclubs and restaurants with nightlife. However, this would require enabling legislation from the Virginia General Assembly.
The panel will meet again next week to try to formulate a recommendation on the direction the county should pursue. If it can’t formulate a plan on April 11, the committee might have a final meeting later this month.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the issue in its Development Process Committee May 5, and hopes to pass the new rules by July.
Correction: The original version of this story contained the wrong date of a meeting.