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Williamsburg issues emergency zoning guidance to expand outdoor seating

The Emergency Temporary Zoning Guidance allows the conversion of some parking lots into additional outdoor seating, and public seating in Merchants Square.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg looks a little different as a result of the pandemic.

Following Governor Ralph Northam’s Phase One announcement, city leaders have addressed the needs of restaurant owners by trying to help restaurants comply with new social distancing guidelines.

City Manager Andrew Trivette issued Emergency Temporary Zoning Guidance that allows the conversion of some Williamsburg parking lots into additional outdoor seating, provides for partial street closures and includes new tables and umbrellas in Merchants Square.

A city spokesman says this isn’t the first time customers have seen outdoor seating of this kind on Duke of Gloucester Street, but it’s the city’s best attempt to promote business while maintaining social distancing.

There are 40 table sets in the Merchants Square pedestrian block. The spacing meets current safety guidelines set by the state, and allows for emergency access. 

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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation staff will sanitize them periodically during use.

The foundation purchased the table sets to match its design themes and outdoor seating experiences. The City will reimburse that expense, so the seating can be provided on city property and be open to the public, no matter where they shop.

Bill Armbruster thought it was a smart move.

“We have to do what we can to keep these folks solvent because the economy is in a nosedive,” Armbruster said. “We're happy Williamsburg City Council and Colonial Williamsburg are working together to keep this area alive.”

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Mary Ellen Power is one of the owners of The Cheese Shop. They had to close for about two months, but reopened once Governor Northam gave businesses the "okay." 

Power said they also had to eliminate half of their outdoor seating - so the public tables and chairs are a lifeline. Her customers are no longer allowed to sit in the dining room.

“This is a great advantage to everyone in our community,” Power said.

The guidelines are categorized by facility type, effective immediately, and expire under any of the following conditions: on the revised directive of the City Manager, the adoption of an Ordinance by the City Council, or by July 31, 2020.

Here are some of the details from the city.

Private Outdoor Seating Expansion:

(1) Existing outdoor seating areas may be expanded into adjacent areas including streets and sidewalks so long as the public throughway remains open, applicable special event permits are obtained, and emergency access is uninterrupted. Only locations in downtown Williamsburg will be considered for street closures.

(2) New outdoor seating areas may be created to include portions of the existing parking field provided that the guidelines in Executive Order 61 can be met, and a. Appropriate barriers must be installed to protect patrons and comply with any applicable ABC regulations. b. Architectural Review Board requirements for such outdoor seating shall not apply. c. City Staff shall have the discretion to determine maximum space available for conversion to outdoor seating while providing necessary parking for patrons.

Public Seating Areas:

(1) The City may create outdoor seating areas on Duke of Gloucester Street a. The street shall continue to be closed for use by vehicular traffic and will have limited pedestrian access from Boundary Street to Henry Street. b. The City of Williamsburg shall install and maintain tables, chairs, and umbrellas for use by patrons regardless of point of purchase for consumer goods. c. The seating area shall open at dawn and close at 10 pm. d. Necessary emergency access shall be maintained for all adjacent structures. e. Architectural Review Board requirements for such outdoor seating shall not apply. 

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