Decatur leaders approve zoning change for payday lenders - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Decatur leaders approve zoning change for payday lenders

Under the new measure, future payday loan stores must be at least 1,500 feet apart. Under the new measure, future payday loan stores must be at least 1,500 feet apart.

Decatur City Councilman Chuck Ard said he'd rather have a tougher crackdown on payday loan operations, like the dozens he sees along Sixth Avenue. But since they're largely regulated by the state, the city's options are limited.

"We feel like this is about all we can do," he said.

Ard refers to the resolution the city council passed Monday night, creating zoning restrictions for payday advance stores.

"These places take advantage of people by charging exorbitant interest rates," Ard said. "Obviously we want to limit those and prevent them from escalating in the city."

The chief concern, according to city planner Karen Smith, is the effect high-interest cash stores have on the city's residents, who perhaps may come back time and again to receive quick-cash, only to fall behind on repayments and fall into an even worse financial situation.

"In this case, there is a great deal of concern that the high interest rates involved in these businesses will have a negative impact on our citizens," she said.

The one thing the city can change is zoning. The new measure approved by the council limits licensed payday loan and title pawn stores – as well as gold and jewelry buyers – to commercial and industrial districts only, and their lots have to be at least 1,500 feet apart.

The measure will not apply to shops already in place within the city limits.

Only one dissenting vote was cast at Monday's meeting, that of Councilman Billy Jackson.

"Our ordinance is basically, over time, going to run these guys out of business," Jackson said. "Some people might like that; can't say that I'm necessarily opposed to that. But I do think that we have to give our citizens options, and we're taking those away."

Ard said the plan is fair and proportional.

"It will allow those that are there to operate. It will prevent others from coming in," he said.

The council had previously passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to rein in payday loan businesses with limits on interest rates and requirements that customers be limited in how many loans they can take out. Several such messages have been proposed in the state legislature, but have not passed.

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