MUSCLE SHOALS — Members of the Muscle Shoals City Council are in early discussions about a potential move that could prevent more short-term cash lenders from putting down roots in the city.
At its meeting Monday, the council received copies of moratoriums passed in Birmingham and Midfield, both in Jefferson County, that prohibit the establishment of more title loan, payday loan and cash advance operations in those cities.
Muscle Shoals is home to 21 title loan, payday loan and cash advance businesses. Approximately a dozen of those businesses are on Woodward Avenue between Second Street and Avalon Avenue.
Ordinances from Birmingham and Midfield were distributed for Muscle Shoals council members to review.
City Councilman Joe Pampinto said the concentration of those type businesses in one area could be problematic.
"There are a lot of them clustered in certain areas," Pampinto said. "Some areas are about inundated."
In Birmingham, the moratorium was first passed in December 2011 and extended in May to address the clustering of businesses on certain thoroughfares.
In Midfield's moratorium, city officials express concern that the proliferation of such businesses could impede the attraction of other businesses.
According to that moratorium, "the excessive concentration of these types businesses within the territorial confines of the Midfield city limits, effectively limits the ability of the city of Midfield to attract various and different types of businesses."
Max Wood, president of Borrow Smart Alabama, the industry's trade group, said many times misconceptions about short-term lending lead conversations about moratoriums.
According to information provided by Borrow Smart Alabama "payday lending customers must have a job, a checking account and a permanent address."
"We think it is very unfortunate that Muscle Shoals is considering a moratorium against a legal, regulated industry that provides access to short-term credit for thousands of hard-working Alabamians," Wood said.
He said a halt to business licensing for the industry would decrease competition and could increase costs to customers.
"(It) is not only an anti-business discussion, but also an anti-consumer discussion," Wood said.
City officials in Muscle Shoals haven't cited a specific reason for the possible moratorium but did discuss possible zoning changes or limiting the number of licenses issued for certain business types.
Mayor David Bradford said if the council chooses to enact a moratorium, it would allow the city time to study the issue and possibly enact zoning or licensing changes.
"Currently, they are allowed to locate in B-1 zoning," Bradford said. "We might ask the planning commission to look at requiring B-2 zoning."
B-1 zones allow neighborhood businesses while B-2 is the more restrictive general business zone.
Bradford also suggested the council consider a limit on the number of operations allowed in the city limits. Under that proposal, current businesses would be grandfathered in, but a new business would not be allowed to open unless an existing one closed.
The city of Northport recently passed a moratorium on those business, but it was wider-reaching to include pawn shops, tobacco shops, adult book and merchandise shops, hand car wash businesses and firework vendors.
Northport's neighbor, Tuscaloosa, also considered a moratorium but has chosen, at this time, not to pursue the matter. The two west Alabama towns also have discussed a joint study of a moratorium.
Muscle Shoals council President Jim Holland instructed the other council members to study the materials and research the possible moratorium so the item could be placed on a future meeting or work session agenda.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@Times Daily.com.