WINCHESTER — City officials say they are willing to bend the rules to help Winchester restaurants survive the financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus.

Winchester Development Services Director Shawn Hershberger told City Council on Tuesday that his office is allowing dining establishments to bend some city ordinances to survive restrictions that forced many of them to temporarily close or dramatically reduce operations to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For example, Hershberger said, the city’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) is not currently interested in policing certain zoning and permit violations, such as the placement of temporary signs outside of restaurants and the sale of fresh meat and produce from kitchen stockpiles.

He also said restaurants that cannot offer indoor dining due to COVID-19 concerns can request permission from his office to create outdoor seating areas in nontraditional spaces such as parking lots.

Permits are required, but officials have been granting permission even in cases where the outdoor seating areas are taking up parking spaces that are required under City Code.

Council members said they support bending the rules if it helps city restaurants.

“I’d rather see us save them now than see them close,” Councilor Les Veach said.

Hershberger and the EDA are now proposing an additional measure designed to bring more diners downtown: Temporary closures of the two-block portion of Boscawen Street that intersects with the middle of the Loudoun Street Mall.

Closing the street, Hershberger said, would allow restaurants on Boscawen to set up dining areas in front of their establishments where customers could relax and enjoy a meal instead of having to take their food home.

“I’m in favor of getting this done tonight,” Councilor Corey Sullivan said.

But council member Judy McKiernan expressed reservations about the possibility of serving alcohol to downtown diners who are seated outside on Boscawen Street, which requires a special permit.

“My overarching concern is maintaining a family atmosphere,” McKiernan said.

“I think it’s a good and sound proposal,” Mayor David Smith said. “Nothing is perfect.”

Smith owns two downtown restaurants, Village Square Restaurant and Water Street Kitchen, both of which already have outdoor seating areas on the Loudoun Street Mall.

“These are difficult times and we need to do as much as we possibly can for these businesses,” Smith said.

Hershberger suggested closing the two-block section of Boscawen only on weekends, starting at 5 p.m. Fridays, to minimize any negative impacts on retail businesses along that stretch of street, including Bluebells florist and MakeNest interior design gallery.

Before any street closures begin, Hershberger said he will meet with those businesses to address their concerns.

The temporary Boscawen Street closures can be instituted immediately without City Council’s directive, but the panel would have to take action if it wants to allow the serving of alcohol in outdoor settings there. Hershberger said he’ll return in a few weeks to see if council is interested in allowing adult beverages outside on that section of Boscawen. Restaurants on the Loudoun Street Mall that serve alcohol outdoors have a special permit.

No start date for the Boscawen closures was announced on Tuesday, but most council members said they’re eager to see it happen to bolster downtown restaurants.

“We’ve got all the tools in place to do it,” Sullivan said. “Let’s roll.”

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(15) comments

Jasba64

Sorry but nobody wants to eat outside when it's 90 degrees and 100% humidity. It's time to open up our country. Stop playing politics with people's checkbooks.

Valerie78

speak for yourself. i don't want to be stuffed inside with a bunch of sweaty covid shedding customers who think (and i use that term loosely) that a global pandemic is actually a political game being played in the united states alone.

Conservative

This is NOT a pandemic. I repeat, NOT A PANDEMIC.

According to the Merriam-Webster Definition of pandemic (Entry 1 of 2)

: occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. Source site:https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pandemic An exceptionally high proportion of the population is NOT AFFECTED by this china virus. The Plague that struck Asia and most of Europe in the 14th century was a PANDEMIC. The H1N1 outbreak of 2009 was a PANDEMIC. We did not shut ANYTHING down then. Look it up for yourselves. It's right here: https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/cdcresponse.htm All you folks say the CDC should be trusted and listened to, there's your proof.

Valerie78

i'm not sure what your argument here. i think you're trying to say that obama handled swine flu MUCH MUCH better than trump given we didn't have to shut anything down. too bad trump didn't have the cajones to act faster.

nice twist giving a cdc link to prove the cdc shouldn't be trusted womp womp.

Doc Samson

@Con - Love the Leftist response here! Admits she doesn't understand what you are saying, proceeds to make incorrect assumptions based on her lack of understanding, and then goes on to make fun/mock. Seriously into the realm of TDS...

Conservative

Well Valerie, the H1N1 virus originated in the US according to the CDC, so it was contained. We know from satellite photos over china that they shut things down in late 2019. I'm not saying anything about how either POTUS handled it. I am saying that it's odd when the H1N1 pandemic hit, nobody was screaming to shut down everything, but when the china virus hit in 2020, the gov't leadership demanded shutdowns. Why? And I think the CDC data on H1N1 should be trusted. I don't trust numbers that come from hospitals and healthcare facilities who receive funds for certain types of diagnoses. Valerie and many others are too interested in flapping her gums instead of reading up on things she knows absolutely nothing about except for what the media feeds her.

Doc Samson

AHAHAHAHAHAHA! Your "factless" responses are too funny! Such witty repartee! Oh, btw, I'm still waiting for the "knowledge bomb" you are going to drop on me re: Defunding the police and how that works... or, did you forget? Moved on the next thing? Don't really know how it will work or just don't want to say? It's a lot of outrage to keep track of, I know, so please, take your time.

Valerie78

i don't waste my time. if there's something you want to fully understand in this life you got to do the leg work yourself. you agree with biden though so, maybe that will motivate you think for yourself?

Conservative

Shut them down with irrefutable facts and they have nothing of substance to say except to hurl insults.

Valerie78

both of yall need a refresher course in sarcasm. but keep spinning them gears!

Conservative

Well Valerie, help us to understand your viewpoint then, without the sarcasm. Usually when people post sarcasm, they say they are being sarcastic. Are you refuting clear evidence that this current situation IS NOT a pandemic? Are you refuting the FACT that the H1N1 outbreak 11 years ago, WAS a pandemic? And, are you refuting the FACT that during the H1N1 outbreak, nothing was shut down anywhere close to the levels of today? Please, we're adults, lets communicate like them and debate the viewpoints with civility.

hollyparker

It’s about time someone used some good ‘ole common sense!!!!

jrmama

That's good. It's too bad the title is misleading.

BenWeber

Close Boscawen between Indiana Alley and Cameron Street on Friday’s till Sunday evening. Council inaction on this temporary solution is not an option that council can choose from. Don’t wait another month while you play play the moral high ground Judy.

Valerie78

i don't think she knows any other way to play it..

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.