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Distance Dispute Puts Asylum At Odds With NPU-W Over Liquor License

Residents also express concern regarding noise and parking issues new restaurant will bring.

A straight line, as the saying goes, is the shortest distance between two points.

But when it comes to the granting of a liquor license, how one interprets a "straight line," can mean the difference between approval and denial.

And in East Atlanta Village, it's the center of a dispute between the owner of the Asylum Restaurant & Lounge, the planned restaurant and bar slated to open next month, and Neighborhood Planning Unit-W.

The Asylum's owner, Brian Michael Sawyer, who has leased the former Echo Lounge at 543 Flat Shoals Ave., is seeking a liquor license from the city.

As part of the process, establishments seeking liquor licenses make presentations to the specific neighborhood where the business is to be located, as well as neighborhood planning units.

NPUs advocate for their member neighborhoods and review issues such a zoning, liquor license applications and public safety. While the city's License Review Board — and ultimately, the mayor — will have final say on whether the Asylum gets its license, city officials do take NPU recommendations into consideration.

At last week's meeting of NWU-W, the body voted down Sawyer's request for a liquor license approval.

The denial, which came after several minutes of back-and-forth debate, is based on city regulations that prohibit the granting of liquor licenses to an establishment that is within 300 feet of a residential property.

Specifically, the ordinance addresses so-called hard liquors such as whiskey or vodka. An establishment selling just beer and wine is not subject to the 300-foot distance rule.

The statute — Sec. 10-88 of the city code — reads:

No license hereunder shall be issued for any location where alcoholic beverages are sold whose proposed boundary line is within 300 feet of any private residence. The distance for the purpose of this section, notwithstanding the definition of distance contained in section 10-1, shall be measured by straight line from the closest point of the property line of the proposed site where alcoholic beverages are sold to the nearest point of any residential building, provided, however, that when the applicant is located within a shopping center containing a minimum of 80,000 square feet the distance from any private residence shall be reduced to 150 feet.

The Asylum property, which fronts Flat Shoals Avenue roughly from May to Stokeswood avenues, abuts a single-family home at 568 Stokeswood.

At the core of the row between the Asylum and NPU-W, is how the distance between the two properties is being measured.

NPU-W measured the closest point between Asylum's property line and the nearest point of the Stokeswood Avenue home. Its survey shows a distance of 39.3 feet.

"Any survey upon which the applicant seeks to rely that shows otherwise is based on incorrect methodology or is simply factually inaccurate," NPU-W wrote in its explanation of its denial.

Sawyer and his attorney, Charles Richards, dispute that measurement. They say the distance exceeds the 300-foot requirement by 64 feet. But the survey Asylum presented measured distance from its front door to the front door of the Stokeswood Avenue property, counting in the "straight line" the sidewalk on Flat Shoals and Stokeswood avenues.

The statute does not specify how straight lines are to be defined.

Some residents also expressed concerns about noise, given that Asylum, which can seat 200, will have live music. One Stokeswood Avenue resident questioned where patrons would park.

Sawyer, who also owns the Mood Lounge in Buckhead, responded the restaurant hired a valet parking firm which is in negotiations with the owners of several lots in the Village to provide parking for patrons.

But Lauren Borchard, the Stokeswood Avenue resident, said she feared the valets would end up parking vehicles in unauthorized spots or take spaces from residents who don't have off-street parking. Patrons who bypass the valet service altogether, also could park on side streets.

As it is, portions of some streets in the Village, including May, Gresham and Flat Shoals avenues, quickly fill up on nights and weekends, as patrons of various bars and restaurants descend upon the neighborhood.

Sawyer said he would have various types of entertainment from live music to stage performances and plans to appeal to a wide spectrum of customers.

After the meeting, he told East Atlanta Patch he welcomes any concerned resident to tour his establishment — by making a request via Asylum's Facebook page — before it opens to see the vibe he's seeking.

Despite his assurances that he would work to be a good neighbor and minimize any disruption to the neighborhood, she remained skeptical.

Even the name of the name of the restaurant, "Asylum" suggests something other than peaceful.

"Asylum says to me party all night," Borchard said. "There's no control in an asylum."

J in EAV May 31, 2012 at 05:16 PM
The owner thought a straight line was door-to-door? I'm always amazed what people do to get around the rules. The restaurant & "lounge" will be able to serve beer and wine.
Chris May 31, 2012 at 08:44 PM
hello
Chris May 31, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I was wondering, since I didn't see an article about it, did anyone attend the community meeting in Inman Park on Tuesday on the redevelopment of 280 Elizabeth? I would be interested to know what was discussed and possible plans the developer has for the land. http://inmanpark.org/community-meeting-280-elizabeth-street/
Ed Gilgor June 03, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Under city of Atlanta ordinances BYOB establishments must have the same licensing as "regular" establishments. The ordinance operates off of the distribution of alcohol so whose alcohol it is and/or whether iminey is changing hands is not relevant. Even if someone wants to give away alcohol, they need a license.
Chris Murphy June 05, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Ed Gilgor: are there distance requirements for beer & wine licenses (restaurant, etc.), similar as that for retail beer & wine (convenience stores)?

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