Jackson County considers restrictions on pawn shops, payday lenders

A pawn shop here, a payday loan operation there. Pretty soon the neighborhood becomes full of such businesses.

To keep that from happening in unincorporated parts of Jackson County, the county legislature is considering new restrictions.

No two businesses offering high-interest, short-term loans could be within a mile of each other, or within 1,000 feet of a church, daycare center, park, hospital, school or public building. The buffer between residential areas would be 500 feet under the proposed ordinance introduced at Tuesday’s meeting of the Jackson County Legislature.

Sponsored by legislators Crystal Williams and Theresa Garza Ruiz, the measure was endorsed unanimously in November by the county plan commission.

Consumers Union and other critics say payday lenders and pawn shops prey on hard-luck Americans, charging interest rates that on an annual basis can total 400 percent or more. Another complaint is that clusters of such businesses can lead to crime and lower property values.

“We’re not seeing a lot of that in our unincorporated areas yet,” Williams said in an interview, but she and others want to prevent it from happening, as it has in other parts of the metro area.

The Jackson County wouldn’t be the first to impose distance restrictions. Kansas City and Lee’s Summit both require at least a mile of separation between pawn shops and payday lenders in any combination. In Blue Springs, it’s 1,500 feet, while Independence has a 2,500-foot minimum.

Among those supporting the proposal is the coalition of churches and community groups calling itself Communities Creating Opportunity. The same group is promoting a ballot initiative to place limitations on payday lenders across Missouri.

No one from the industry voiced opposition when the matter came up before the plan commission, but there will be opportunities for that when the ordinance comes before the legislature’s land use committee in the weeks ahead.

Also Tuesday, legislators chose their leaders for the year. Dan Tarwater is chairman and Scott Burnett is vice chairman.