Corrected: Arlington County Board Adopts Revised Zoning Ordinance Regulations for Outdoor Cafes

(Note: this corrects an earlier version to clarify that the Board voted to allow electronic devices during specified hours)

  • Outdoor cafes on private property may remain open year-round
  • Clear definitions will benefit small businesses
  • Outdoor cafes allowed use of electronic media

ARLINGTON, Va. –The Arlington County Board today adopted amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to define the term “outdoor cafe”, allow outdoor cafes on private property to stay open year-round, and permit the playing of televisions and radios in outdoor areas.

“Outdoor cafes have become an important part of Arlington's restaurant scene,” said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “They are great gathering places for our residents and visitors to our County. The Board's action today clarifies the regulations and will make it easier to open and operate these popular establishments.”

The County's more than 200 outdoor cafes, Tejada noted, help restaurants attract customers and enliven the streets where they operate.

Arlington County's Master Transportation Plan, a part of the Comprehensive Plan, calls for streets and sidewalks that are comfortable and interesting places that encourage people to walk, socialize and patronize local businesses.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the Zoning Ordinance revisions. The changes include:

  • Defining “outdoor café” as a temporary area with removable seats and tables; an extension of the restaurant where food and beverages are served. Rooftops are not considered outdoor cafes.

  • Allowing outdoor cafes that are on private property to operate year-round. The original zoning guidelines required the cafes to be closed for part of every year.

  • Allowing the use of televisions, radios and similar devices in outdoor cafe areas during designated times (Sunday –Thursday 9 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday- Saturday 9 a.m.–11 p.m.). Current ordinances permit the playing of outdoor radios and televisions at any time of day, subject only to the Noise Ordinance.

Community Outreach

The Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission (ZOCO) reviewed the proposed draft regulations and made suggestions that were incorporated as part of the adopted amendments.

County staff also sought comments on the draft regulations from civic associations in areas where outdoor cafes are concentrated, including Ballston-Virginia Square, Lyon Village, Radnor-Fort Myer Heights, North Rosslyn, and Fairlington-Shirlington.


The number of outdoor cafes in Arlington has grown steadily in the last decade.

The new regulations will provide clarity to business owners and citizens on the existing rules for outdoor cafes on private property that had been regulated as part of the “Zoning Administrator advice.” The adopted regulations are now included in the Zoning Ordinance.

To read the staff report on this item, visit the County website. Scroll down to Item #42 on the Regular Agenda for the May 18, 2013 County Board Meeting.

For more information on Arlington County's Zoning Ordinance, visit

Arlington Va., is a world-class residential, business and tourist location that was originally part of the “10 miles square” parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. Slightly smaller than 26 square miles, it is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, and one of only a handful with the prized Aaa/AAA/AAA bond rating. Arlington maintains a rich variety of stable neighborhoods and quality schools, and has received numerous awards for Smart Growth and transit-oriented development. Home to some of the most influential organizations in the world — including the Pentagon — Arlington stands out as one of America's preeminent places to live, visit and do business.