After dance fans protested by blog, email, Facebook and local radio, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors sidestepped discussion Tuesday of a law regulating dancing in restaurants, tossing the measure back to the planning commission for revisions.
But Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said he has not changed his tune about the need for clear-cut zoning regulations regarding restaurants that serve food by day and morph into raucous dance halls at night. McKay said he agreed to put off further discussion of the matter with the assurance that the board would reconsider a revised ordinance in July, before the August recess.
"I think every single one of our board members would be singing a different tune if we had a tragedy because of the overcrowding and drinking."
— Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee)
"We don’t need more analysis. We need action," McKay said after the board voted to table the measure. "I think we let those folks down who have lived next door to this for years."
County zoning staff proposed a requirement that would limit the maximum size of the dance floor at a restaurant to 150 square feet. Under current zoning regulations, restaurants can use up to an eighth of its floor space for dancing without having to apply for a dance hall permit, which costs approximately $16,000.
Last Thursday, the Fairfax County Planning Commission told supervisors they needed more time to revise county staff’s proposal, contending the 150 square foot limitation was too restrictive.
"The regulations are ridiculous…You can’t dance on 150 square feet."
— Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield)
"We may be spraying the whole county with DDT because of one fruit fly," Commissioner Jim Hart (At-Large) said of the staff proposal.
McKay said he originally asked county staff to review zoning regulations three years ago after police, local business owners and other constituents complained about overcrowding, noise and safety issues at several restaurants in central Springfield. The first complaint, he said, concerned a Chinese buffet that masqueraded as a restaurant by day and turned into a troublesome dancing club at night, with noise and alcohol-fueled brawls that required police action.
Many of the establishments, he said, intentionally get permitted as restaurants, but derive much of their revenue by operating as a dance club and selling alcohol. By obtaining a restaurant permit, businesses are able to skirt occupancy and parking restrictions, and avoid the additional $16,000-plus dance hall permit.
McKay said his intent is not to ban dancing, but to update 1975 zoning regulations and make them meaningful, fair and relevant today.
"I think every single one of our board members would be singing a different tune if we had a tragedy because of the overcrowding and drinking," McKay said. "I’ve walked the walk. I was out at midnight with police and zoning officials at these clubs. They’re overcrowded because they shove all the tables out of the way, there’s drinking…All I could think of what would happen if someone yelled ‘fire.’ There would be a stampede and people would get trampled."
During Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors said they want to make it clear they are not banning dancing or dancers.
"We’re not anti-dancing," said Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At-large). "We just needed to give a little more time to the issue, and to make sure that we’re solving a problem that does exist and not unfairly affecting places that aren’t part of the problem."
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said he had planned to bring in a dance floor that met the proposed regulations to show "how ridiculous the regulations are. You can’t dance on 150 square feet," he said.
On Facebook Monday night, dancers said they were prepared to show up en masse at the government center Tuesday to demonstrate that 150 square feet is inadequate to "move like Jagger," tango, rumba, rave or salsa.
Hundreds of dancing fans quickly reposted "The Herrity Report," Supervisor Herrity’s monthly e-newsletter, when he sent it out Monday night with the following headline: "Regulatory Overload (Part IV) No Dancing Allowed."
In the report, he called the new regulations "cumbersome and a costly barrier to responsible businesses."
"This is where things always blow up, because we are not looking at the impact on citizens and businesses," Herrity said on Tuesday. "I haven’t seen the case yet for the regulatory changes that were presented. We still haven’t defined the problem we’re trying to solve."
Herrity said he doubts he will be persuaded to accept any new regulations, but that he will keep an open mind.
"We ought to be enforcing laws against problem-causing behavior instead of adding regulations that will have unintended adverse impacts on restaurants, banquet halls and dancers," Herrity said.
After Tuesday’s meeting, McKay said he thought 150-feet was too confining for dancing, but that doesn’t mean the regulations should not be revised.
"We could enact a more flexible standard, and we should," McKay said. "I'm for entertainment and dancing, but I also believe there needs to be a lever of control to protect our citizens and other businesses."