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Controversial Bar In Kirkwood Denied Mirrored Window Variance

Owner of Kirkwood Bar & Grill, found to be in violation of zoning regulations, says racial hostility is to blame

The Atlanta Board of Zoning Adjustment voted against a variance request by the owner of a problem bar in Kirkwood, which would have allowed him to keep reflective glass and tinting on his storefront windows.

The ruling against David Johnson, owner of the Kirkwood Bar & Grill at 1963 Hosea Williams Drive SE, comes after several months of Kirkwood residents seeking to that he comply with existing regulations.

At issue: Johnson, who took over the former after it closed earlier this year, installed mirrored glass.

The problem is that Kirkwood’s designation, as an NC-3 district and city zoning regulations don't permit that.

What's more, the rules of the Kirkwood Station Homeowners Association, by which the restaurant is governed, also prohibit it.

The chief arguments are that mirrored glass makes it difficult to see what's going on inside, makes it hard for people to know when the business is open or closed and that restaurant has been a magnet for criminal activity.

Adding to residents' ire is what they say have been deliberate attempts and stalling tactics on Johnson's part to continue operations even though the mirrored glass is a clear violation of neighborhood regulations.

He requested a hearing before the Neighborhood Planning Unit-O in September but failed to show up for the discussion scheduled in October. The NPU voted against recommending he be allowed to keep the windows 22-0.

He also didn't show up to answer questions from the Kirkwood Neighbors' Organization's zoning committee and full membership meetings in September.

Even the Kirkwood Business Owner's Association, which represents 62 proprietors with operations in the neighborhood, sent the city zoning board a letter — as did the Kirkwood Neighbors’' Organization — asking it to deny Johnson's variance request.

Despite the neighborhood's overwhelming opposition, Johnson appealed to the city zoning board, which took up the issue on Thursday.

But he didn't attend and the board denied the variance request.

"We're satisfied with the outcome," said David Kuechenmeister, a Kirkwood Station Homeowners Association board member. "He broke the law."

It's not clear what Johnson will do, if anything.

He has 30 days to appeal the zoning board's decision by appealing to the Fulton County Superior Court. But he has other issues: notably battling Kirkwood residents over his liquor license.

The restaurant has been closed in the interim and telephone calls seeking comment have gone unanswered.

In the past, Johnson has said on Twitter that the opposition to his restaurant stems from racial animosity because he is a black restaurateur in a gentrifying community.

Late Friday, he told WSB-TV somebody spray-painted his Gwinnett County home with a racial slur and a warning to leave Kirkwood.

Péralte Paul November 05, 2011 at 10:50 PM
Hey, Menelik: Thanks for commenting. I've tried several times to get in touch with Mr. Johnson and have been unable to reach him. If you have a way of contacting him, I'd be only too glad to speak to him and get his side of the story.
Chris Murphy November 06, 2011 at 12:41 PM
I'd hope the cops in the jurisdiction where he lives investigate as best as possible the spray painting at his house, because I wouldn't doubt that he did it himself.
Hard November 07, 2011 at 01:38 PM
It seems absurd to outlaw window film and even more absurd that citizens think this is a proper role of government.
howard street November 10, 2011 at 06:00 PM
It seems absurd that he would install window film in the first place. Looks like a strip club.
Celhenry March 21, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Local governments should be able to set the standards for its community. Business owners new to a community would always do best by understanding the local standards before deciding to make leasehold improvements. It would also make good sense to use a little diplomacy and positively engage the business association. I have seen the same thing happen in East Atlanta, where business owners want to go at it on their own and then find themselves at odds with the business or residential community. The business planning process should take ALL of those things into consideration.

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