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

Time to Escape, an entertainment 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.

The door to Time to Escape in Brookhaven. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

But according to documents filed by the city Aug. 26 in DeKalb Superior Court, the city is confused as to whether the business is allowed under the zoning for the parcel and how “retail” is defined. That led the city to ask a judge to provide guidance in defining its zoning law and to issue a declaratory judgment.

The action leaves Time to Escape in limbo, unable to get a certificate of occupancy from the city and open its doors. During a recent visit, the business was ready to open, with its realistic Alcatraz prison cell and a “King Tut” tomb with Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls.

Dan Cleveland, owner of Time to Escape, said that he has hired the law firm Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco, to represent him. He otherwise declined to comment.

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

City spokesperson Ann Marie Quill declined to comment on the situation.

Time to Escape received a business permit from the city in March and 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 themes 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.

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.

A sign declaring Time to Escape is open was hung before the city’s request to a judge about the property’s zoning put the entertainment business in limbo. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

Brookhaven inherited the DeKalb County rezoning of the property at 1441 Dresden Drive. Under that zoning, 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.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.