Royal Oak shows support for rezoning of growing business

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published September 18, 2013

ROYAL OAK — American Interlock has been installing court-ordered alcohol-monitoring devices in cars since 1999.

“The alcohol device is, unfortunately, a growing business,” said Dennis Cowan, the company’s attorney, at the Sept. 9 City Commission meeting. “Because their business is growing, they want to stay in Royal Oak.”

The owners, Robert Hawkins and Harlen Cohan, found the perfect site for their expansion at 600 E. 11 Mile Road. The building currently has office space and a garage in the back.

So the two bought it, but they ran into a slight problem.

Currently, the building is zoned for neighborhood business, and while the developers say affixing the device inside of a car on-site is simple, takes eight minutes, and accounts for a small amount of its business, automobile installations are not allowed within that zone.

“The primary issue at this site … (is that) those installations are not authorized within the neighborhood business zoning district,” said Timothy Thwing, the city’s director of planning, at the Sept. 9 meeting.

Cowan and Hawkins have been working with the city to have the site conditionally rezoned to general business, and as of press time, have received the OK at every city level.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning at its Aug. 13 meeting.

“It’s good to see a business in Royal Oak find a building to stay in Royal Oak as they expand and need more space,” Mayor Jim Ellison, a member of the Planning Commission, said Aug. 13.

The City Commission approved the first reading of the conditional rezoning with a 5-0 vote. Commissioner Jim Rasor and Commissioner Mike Fournier were absent from the meeting. The commission will have voted on the second reading for final approval at its Sept. 16 meeting, after press time.

Cowan called conditional rezoning the “path of least resistance” for the local company.

With the conditional rezoning, the new use remains only as long as the business stays open. It reverts to neighborhood business and prevents an oil-change shop or a mechanical shop from opening if American Interlock were to leave the site.

“We believe this is the best way to go for both the neighborhood and the business,” Cowan said.

Hawkins explained that his company’s device is installed in a car after someone is charged with driving while under the influence. After installation, the driver must breathe into the device and show no signs of alcohol use in order for the car to start.

The company also monitors the use and reports back to the court where the order was given.

Hawkins added that for the most part, installations will be occurring off-site. They have 12 employees who travel around the state installing their devices.

He said his company only does up to seven onsite installations a week.

“All the installations will occur behind a closed garage door,” Hawkins said.