Madison HeightsAugust 21, 2013
Trouble on Tawas
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
MADISON HEIGHTS — City officials have been receiving an earful from residents of Tawas Street, who claim a nearby drug-screening clinic is causing them no shortage of grief in their neighborhood north of 12 Mile and east of John R.
The business is JAMS Enterprises LLC, 739 E. 12 Mile: one of two addresses in a small building at the corner of Tawas. The business is leasing the single-floor space inside an add-on at a residential parcel that was rezoned for business in 2005.
Identified only by rudimentary signs propped up in narrow windows, the clinic screens individuals for drug and alcohol use. The majority of their clientele are ordered there by the court as part of their bond condition. Hours of operation are 6:30-9 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 6:30-9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is most active around the holidays, when the court increases random checks for substance use.
The business has about a dozen spaces in its lot, which outlets straight onto Tawas. Of those spots, one is for handicap parking, and a couple more are for staff. The rest are left for clients. While this meets city code, which dictates the required number of parking spaces per square footage of building, neighbors say it’s not nearly enough to accommodate clients, with scores of people visiting JAMS during peak hours, parking all the way up and down both sides of Tawas.
This has led to many well-documented incidents where clients park illegally in front of driveways, preventing residents from leaving their homes. One example is June 14, when a truck driver parked his 18-wheeler in front of multiple driveways. In another incident Memorial Weekend, a woman was late to an appointment for her kids because she was trapped in her driveway for 10 minutes.
“There have been accidents, too,” said James Olivier, a resident who lives a couple doors down from JAMS. “In March, I was rear-ended by someone coming out of there that hadn’t defrosted their windshield.”
Emails and phone calls to JAMS management went unreturned by press time.
Police have been patrolling the area regularly, ticketing violators who don’t heed the numerous “no parking” signs dotting Tawas. There is also a flyer posted on the front door of JAMS, facing Tawas, telling clients that, per police order, they must not park anywhere on Tawas from 12 Mile to the first driveway facing north, or they will be ticketed and denied testing until the vehicle is moved.
But the problem persists, according to residents.
“It’s frustrating,” said Joseph Smigels, a resident of Tawas living across the street from JAMS. “I’ve seen (the clients) park here in my driveway. They do it because it’s easier and they can just walk right across the street.”
Blocking driveways is not the only problem caused by parking congestion on Tawas. Olivier says that when school is in session, and buses and parents are ferrying kids to and from John Page Middle School, also on Tawas, the street becomes a one-way road. Olivier worries that someone on 12 Mile may quickly and carelessly turn onto Tawas, only to crash into a bus full of children.
Another issue for the school children concern those walking down Tawas past JAMS, where clients are said to sometimes speed in and out of the parking lot. Residents have also taken abundant photographs of litter lying around JAMS that they consider inappropriate for impressionable teens — everything from cigarette butts to various medical devices.
Olivier said his neighbors have seen trash, cups and liquor bottles thrown from the windows of vehicles leaving JAMS. The debris winds up on neighboring properties, accumulating in yards and along fence-lines. Olivier said the woman living between him and JAMS fears for her small dog after she found shards of glass in her flowerbed.
And the safety concerns don’t end with the parking, speeding and sanitation issues. Smigels notes the families in the neighborhood, including a couple with a 10-year-old girl right across the street from JAMS, are uncomfortable about some of the people they see visiting the facility.
“My wife always says, ‘Look at all those characters (at JAMS), looking at our house. Maybe they’re sizing it up,’” Smigels said. “She’s nervous about it.”
Most of the people visiting JAMS are there on a minor offense, ranging from students to businessmen. But the fear is a more dangerous sort might show up and spell trouble for the neighbors.
Olivier said they’ve seen individuals cussing at each other in the parking lot at JAMS, and that police have had to break up fights there.
“It worries me that someone will be over there, high or drunk, depressed from hard times or failing a test, and they may pull a gun,” Olivier said. “Our luck is going to run out. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when.’ And we’ll ask our city officials, ‘If you knew, why did you do nothing to prevent it?’ It’s not worth it — especially when there are so many other places in the city they could relocate.”
When asked for comment, Madison Heights Police Chief Anthony Roberts deferred to Madison Heights City Manager Ben Myers. Myers said the city has been meeting with residents of Tawas and representatives of JAMS trying to find a solution.
“I’m not purporting to speak for JAMS,” Myers said, “but one of the things we all acknowledged, and they made a point of it, is that education is an issue for them because, in a best-case scenario, they don’t have repeat clientele; the first time might be the only time, and then they’re out of the program. And so you always have someone new coming in who doesn’t know the area or that there are parking issues.
“I think, in general, while we’re certainly sympathetic to the frustrations the residents are feeling over there, we are dealing with the issue from the standpoint of what we (at the city) can work with them on, what we can enforce, and the types of issues where the city has an authority to go in, such as with parking and traffic,” he said. “We never, ever try to discourage any of the neighbors from calling for service if they need us out there. We have gone through a stepped-up enforcement period, and continue to want to be responsive out there.”