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No limits on cash stores in Esquimalt

Feb 14 2012

Esquimalt will not limit the number of cash stores within its borders.

Only Coun. Tim Morrison, calling Esquimalt a “mecca for money stores,” voted in favour of capping the payday-loan stores at the existing five.

At council’s request after a fifth money store outlet announced last fall that it was setting up shop in Esquimalt, municipal staff reviewed how several municipalities have restricted cash stores and fast-food outlets.

A staff report last month recommended that the township amend its zoning bylaw to prohibit future outlets from opening. The existing five outlets would be grandfathered — making them “legal non-conforming” businesses.

But council tabled its consideration of the report at that time, pending presentations from the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Payday Loan Association.

Both of those organizations have since said that the market should decide which businesses survive and which fail.

Morrison, who had campaigned for a restriction against the stores, argued in favour of the staff recommendation. He said census figures released last week that showed Esquimalt’s population has dropped four per cent since 2006 are a reason for concern and require intervention by the council.

“I want to reinforce the fact that we are not disenfranchising anyone. These businesses will continue to exist. In fact, we have an average of one of them on every block of Esquimalt Road,” he said.

But other councillors said the market should decide, and restricting certain businesses would send the wrong message.

“I fear if you limit one type of business, where do you draw the line?” said Coun. David Schinbein.

Coun. Lynda Hundleby said she doesn’t like the high rates charged by the cash stores, but those rates reflect the risks that the business bears.

“I would hope that we didn’t need those — but the reality is that we do. It’s honest. It’s legal and it’s legitimate, and I don’t think we can change that. I think we still have to allow those types of businesses,” she said.

Coun. Meagan Brame said the stores are regulated businesses and, “with the exception of possibly one,” look better than empty storefronts.

“I do think the law of economics will do its job and the strongest will survive,” she said.

There are many misconceptions about who uses payday loan outlets and where locations are opened, Canadian Payday Loans Association president Stan Keyes said in a written submission to Esquimalt council.

A study undertaken in 2007 found the average payday loan customer is 40 years old. About 77 per cent of customers were employed full time, and more than half have completed post-secondary education, said Keyes, a former Liberal cabinet minister once responsible for Revenue Canada, the Canadian Mint, Canada Post and Sport Canada,.

“It is important for you to be aware that unlike pawn shops, payday lenders do no target low- income neighbourhoods. Financial service outlets are located in all demographic areas. You will find lenders in new retail developments,” he wrote.

The prohibition in Esquimalt would have essentially been patterned after one in the Township of Langley, where the definition of commercial use in the township’s zoning bylaw was amended to exclude cheque-cashing facilities. A definition of such facilities was then added to the bylaw.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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