Gainesville City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to ease restrictions on where pawnshops can be located in the city.
The vote comes as a lawsuit against the city was threatened by TitleMax, which had been prohibited from opening a new location at 719 Jesse Jewell Parkway SW because Georgia Auto Pawn already operates directly across the street.
The city issued permits late last year that allowed for interior renovations, and the construction of a freestanding sign, at the new TitleMax location. Only later did city officials realize the location ran afoul of the ordinance.
“Maybe (TitleMax) should hire lawyers who read all the minutiae ... but at the same time we should, too,” said Councilman Sam Couvillon.
When TitleMax threatened litigation, City Council met to discuss possible ways to avoid having to wage a court battle, and ultimately decided gutting the distance requirement in the ordinance was the simplest fix.
“It doesn’t matter whose fault it was,” Couvillon said. “You got to do the right thing.”
The vote stripped language from an ordinance that had required pawnshops to be separated by at least 2,500 feet.
But Councilwomen Ruth Bruner and Myrtle Figueras voted against the amendment, expressing concern the city could soon be overrun with pawnshops.
“If they’re all clumped together, it really makes an unattractive gateway into the city,” Bruner said.
Figueras called the change in ordinance “distasteful.”
“Does this mean we can have (a pawnshop) on every corner?” she asked rhetorically.
But council members who supported the amendment said the free market would play a role in limiting the growth of pawnshops.
Councilman George Wangemann said the law of supply and demand would alleviate concerns about an explosion of new pawnshops opening in the city.
“... The market will prevail,” he said. “If you put four pawnshops within the area, someone’s going to go out of business.”
There are 18 pawnshops currently operating in Gainesville, according to City Marshal Debbie Jones.
“It’s not like we don’t want them to succeed,” Bruner said, but added that giving TitleMax an exemption based on “miscommunication” might set a bad precedent.
Mayor Danny Dunagan voted in favor of the amendment, giving a fourth affirmative vote to the change. A second reading of the amendment will be heard at City Council’s next meeting, April 15.