The city of Brookhaven is asking a judge to lead it out of a zoning maze where an escape room business is seeking to set up shop on busy Dresden Drive.

Time to Escape, a business where customers try to escape a locked room in under an hour, was set to open in July at 1441 Dresden Drive, also known as Village Park at Brookhaven. Village Park is where the popular Haven Restaurant & Bar and Valenza Italian Restaurants are the anchor businesses.

But according to documents filed by the city Aug. 26 in DeKalb Superior Court, confusion over what the zoning for the parcel actually allows and how “retail” is defined led the city to ask a judge for guidance in unfolding its zoning law and issue a declaratory judgment.

This action leaves Time to Escape in limbo, unable to get a certificate of occupancy from the city and therefore unable to open despite advertising on the website it is ready for business and also advertising on its Facebook page. 

A stop by the business on a recent Saturday when the business is listed as being open found the door locked and nobody answered the door.

Dror Bezalel of Brookhaven Dresden, the company that owns the building, declined to comment other than to say “we’re trying to resolve it” with the city.

Ardent Commercial Realty leases the offices in the building and announced its excitement of Time to Escape’s lease at Village Park in February.

City Attorney Chris Balch states in the documents the city is unsure if Time to Escape is actually allowed to open at 1441 Dresden Drive because a condition of the inherited DeKalb County zoning law states only 50 percent of the building is allowed to be used as retail space.

According to the city, there is no definition of “retail” defined in DeKalb County’s zoning code that the city inherited when it became a city in 2013 and there is also no definition of “retail” in Brookhaven’s zoning code. The city is asking the judge to define retail and as part of the declaratory judgment, the city is asking the judge to define if restaurants are considered retail.

Brookhaven inherited the DeKalb rezoning of the property at 1441 Dresden Drive that includes the conditions the property such as: the property is zoned office institutional and shall not contain more than two buildings with no more than 20,160 square feet of space “with no more than 50 percent of each building available for retail uses, which may have exterior access, on the ground floor,” according to the filing.

Eventually, only one building was built on the property at 1441 Dresden Drive at two stories tall. That building has approximately 19,206 square feet across its two stories, state court documents.

The conditions for the property also include prohibited retail uses including drive through restaurant, franchise fast food restaurants, pawn shop, adult book or gift store which caters to prurient interests, tattoo or body piercing shop, pawn shop and more.

“It is unclear whether the restaurant uses are retail uses or not, since some restaurant uses are expressly prohibited,” Balch states in the filing.

“The zoning conditions passed by DeKalb County in 1999 are unclear, ambiguous and subject to interpretation,” the city states in its court filing.  “The city finds itself in a state of uncertainty with competing legal interests and different interpretations of the zoning conditions.”

Balch further states, “The city is left without a clear understanding of its duties and obligations in the circumstances,” and asks for direction from the court.

Time to Escape applied for and received a business permit in March from the city and then also received a building permit to modify the space on the second floor of the building, leasing its space from the building’s owner, Brookhaven Dresden.

After Time to Escape finished its modifications and created escape rooms with the theme of King Tut’s Tomb and Escape from Alcatraz, it applied for a certificate of occupancy with Brookhaven so it could open to the public.

Community Development Director Ben Song, though, had concerns about the zoning of the property and what is considered retail and has not issued the certificate of occupancy, court documents state.

The city asks the court to determine if a certificate of occupancy should be issued to Time to Escape.

Dan Cleveland, owner of Time to Escape, has hired the firm Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco, to represent him.

4 replies on “Brookhaven isn’t sure whether locked-room business should open”

  1. Man, what a drag! Seems like this issue should have been addressed before any work was done! What a waste of $$$. This issue should have been noticed when they got construction permits!

  2. Once again Brookhaven shows that it is ill prepared.

    The city attorney is apparently not willing to take a stand here and instead of using commonly accepted definitions for not-very-esoteric terms like “retail” is kicking the can down the street.

    How have we existed this long if a “definition of retail” was so critical?

    And how did Brookhaven approve numerous permits for this location if the city didn’t know if its intended use was allowed?

    Yes – at some point you need to draw the line in the sand – issue a moratorium on ANY new business in order to sort things out, but why in the world did they impose their own ineptness on this one business?

    Clearly Brookhaven has found itself at the wrong end of poor planning by the country (and poor due diligence by the city) but the solution to that is not to impose an onerous burden on this one business.

    Without doubt this will only hurt our city (and our pocketbooks) once again.

    (And once again we will be on the hunt for a city attorney worthy & capable of representing us.)

  3. Let’s see if I got this right:

    Brookhaven approved the permits and then said no? How much has the owner of this business spent, and where will it end with regard to legal fees?

    I suspect Brookhaven is using this case as cover for how they botched the development of Dresden Drive. And you know that the moratorium also has to do with Dresden and the Marta development.

    I hear these escape rooms are awesome. What kind of egg head would deny this for our community?

  4. I don’t understand why Time to Escape would not be considered a “service” much like the dental office next store to them. Like the dentist they take appointments and offer a specific service (entertainment). It’s hard to see why this kind of business would be considered retail.

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