By Jim Newell
A new drug and alcohol testing facility opened quietly on Broadway Street in the village last month, leaving some business owners questioning whether the village government should allow the facility to stay in the location.
JAMS Enterprises, LLC, a drug and alcohol testing facility, opened at 12 N. Broadway St. on June 12 in the space formerly occupied by the Dew Drop In.
Now, the Downtown Development Authority and village officials are addressing business owners’ concerns and looking into options for relocating the facility.
David DeRue, owner of Tattoo-Nouveau, said he’s opposed to JAMS being on a main street in the village.
“There are well over a dozen people (in the merchants group) who are upset about this information. It’s all pretty fresh. My first response was making sure people knew about it. Honestly, I feel it’s very important to let the community know that this is happening instead of getting caught blindsided.
“I think it’s rather curious how they just popped up overnight. Something like that, I feel, would have to go through a process,” DeRue said.
Village of Lake Orion
Village Manager Joe Young said JAMS did apply for a change-of-use for the location and did submit the change-of-use form to the village office.
“It was (zoned) a retail use and they’re changing it to a medical office use,” Young said, adding that medical office use is permitted in the downtown district.
Young said certain zoning changings, such as a veterinarian office, would be a special use and would have to go to the planning commission for official change-of-use approval. “And that’s what we’re planning on doing with JAMS, take it to the planning commission.”
JAMS area manager Michelle Foster said she would attend the July 17 Lake Orion Planning Commission meeting to tell the village more about JAMS and answer questions.
“In their change of use form, they said ‘We are a drug and alcohol testing office.’ They do the PBT and take urine samples, they don’t do the lab work,” Young said. “What happened is that they turned it (the change-of-use form) in on Friday and they moved in that weekend. And we gave them the form two or three weeks before,” Young said.
Young noted that a business is not supposed to move in to a building until the planning commission has approved the change-of-use.
JAMS had an office in Oxford but canceled that lease before getting the official change-of-use approval from Lake Orion.
“So, they were in a bad situation because they had these clients, what are they going to do with them,” Young said.
The Downtown Development Authority
DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone sent an email titled, “10 things you need to know about JAMS,” to the downtown businesses on June 15 after receiving inquiries from the business owners.
• LaLone reiterated that JAMS is considered a medical office and is allowed under to Section 6.02 A.6 of the Village of Lake Orion Zoning Ordinance.
• The purpose of this business is to collect court-ordered drug testing samples. They are not processed in this office.
• JAMS operating hours are 6:30-9 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and during the mornings on the weekend. “Upon Village manager request, their sign will only be visible during business hours. They’ve agreed to take it out of the window completely when closed,” she said.
• LaLone also told business owners they could help find “a viable, more preferred business to rent the space” and make that suggestion to the property owner.
• The DDA also is “creating a list of available properties along the commercial corridor from which we hope the business will find a more suitable location.”
“I have not personally received complaints. Their clientele would probably like to be in a place where they could be more discreet. That’s a business where people probably don’t want to be in the middle of downtown,” LaLone said.
“I know that the businesses are concerned. Everyone has a right to be concerned, but we will have to wait and see. I think the manager has been doing what she can to do outreach for the community.”
Young said he understands the local business owners’ concerns. “I’m sure the clients would like to be somewhere else. You don’t want to be seen going in there, necessarily.”
JAMS area manager Michelle Foster said the Lake Orion facility opened June 12.
“My understanding from the village is that it’s not going to be a problem for us to be there,” said Foster, adding JAMS has 15 locations throughout Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties.
Foster said JAMS started as a way to help people from the court system stay out of jail, but that their clientele also includes people who want to maintain their sobriety and test voluntarily, parents who want their children tested and people who are required to undergo testing for employment.
“For the most part, I don’t have problems at any of my locations, especially those in a city area,” Foster said. “I’m sure that we’re a little different from everyone else in the area. I’m sure that some people might have felt the same way when the tattoo shop opened.
“But our clients are the same people who shop in those businesses. They’re buying sneakers, they’re buying pizza.”
Foster said JAMS moved from Oxford because they wanted a location “a little closer to our client base.”
“Our business hours are totally different from everyone else,” Foster said. “I don’t see us being a deterrent for any other businesses in the area.”
The debate continues
Young said the village wants retail and restaurants downtown, and that the DDA is researching other sites where JAMS could relocate. “We’re looking into other sites they could consider. They’re voluntary, obviously.”
Young did say the landlord called him and he informed the landlord that the business should have had the change-of-use approved before moving in.
“I personally have not. No calls. Molly has told me that there are some merchants who are concerned but none of them have talked to me,” Young said.
He added that there is nothing that the village could do to force JAMS out.
“No. That’s a permitted use. We can change the zoning ordinance, but that’s a long process. They are a drug and alcohol testing office, not a laboratory. Right now, our ordinance says they are allowed.”
The local business perspective
Still, for DeRue and the members of the merchants group – DeRue has taken the lead to disseminate information to the group – the situation remains undesirable, if not unacceptable.
“I had to get a change of use. Originally, I was even told that there was no way at all that they would allow for a tattoo shop to be in Lake Orion. I spent a year on the business plan. A very detailed business plan. I made sure that economically it was all feasible.
“But then I had to make sure that the town was going to be okay with me coming in here. And that was a big fear of mine. It was a big worry that they weren’t going to allow it, you know, which is understandable. They never had a tattoo shop here.
“I had to submit paperwork, I had to show them the plans. Then I had to go through a very difficult and engaging process with the health department making sure everything was completely up to code and standard. I respected that and I did that, whereas just last week this location, which has been on hold for a couple months now, took the ‘For Lease’ signs down. No one, to my knowledge was even fully aware what was going on in there,” DeRue said.
DeRue said several people have asked him about the location. “They were interested in opening up a food location, which I thought would have been great. So, when I found out that there was a drug testing facility there, instantly my co-worker let me know that she worked next to their other location in Oxford and that it caused a lot of negative things.
“That’s two doors down from us. We’re a small community. How is that even possible? So, right then I got ahold of the merchant’s group and made the announcement, ‘Hey, does anybody know about this? Does anybody know what’s going on?’” he asked.
“Instantly the DDA even told me they had no idea that was going on. They (JAMS) painted some half-ass sign on the door and already had people showing up. All this was going on while I’m just getting a response back from the DDA that they have no idea of any change of use for the location. So that set off alarms.”
DeRue said the DDA email “seemed like it just tried to calm the issue, like it was out of their hands.”
“How is that out of their hands? They’re the authority. Where’s the authoritative power if they can’t keep something like that, something that’s going to be harmful to our business community out of the community. I’d like to think that we can be progressive here and that there is a little oversight as to how this community is constructed.”
DeRue said he is sympathetic to the people who have to use JAMS services, and has had friends who have battled drug and alcohol problems, but still does not believe a main street in the village is the right place for the service.
“They’re all there getting tested because they have legal problems with their drug use. Not that I’m unsympathetic to that, I just don’t think that’s the element that we need to bring to a downtown that has families and children around the community, that’s tightly-knit. I don’t think it’s progressive. I admit I’m generalizing here, but I don’t think it’s the type of business we want here, or that the community and the neighboring areas would want in here,” DeRue said.
“I believe that’s where the representatives for the village would have the ability to intervene. I think that would be in their best interests to not let that happen. Because if they do end up having their business here, I feel that there are going to be some people in the community that are going to be pretty upset that they allowed that to occur,” DeRue said.
“The clients are coming in with a predisposition with the law. With an unhealthy activity, which is drug use, which I don’t condone. I feel we done good here to have a strong stand against drug use in this town, so two doors down from us they’re going to be regularly bringing in a lot of people … to get their piss tested.”
DeRue said he understands that the landlord wants a tenant in the building, but questioned whether getting an income from any tenant available is always the right choice.
“What do we do when a landlord is not being responsible in his choices?” DeRue asked. “I more than welcome them to find a location in Lake Orion that’s not in the downtown. The downtown is limited real estate. There is demand for these locations.”