Payday lenders soon may find it more difficult to do business in Salt Lake City.

City leaders are proposing changes to the zoning ordinance that would limit where check-cashing and payday loan companies can operate in the city.

The proposal would require a half mile between such businesses, preventing them from clustering in sections of the city. It also prohibits payday lenders from locating within a half mile of schools, churches and municipal- and state-owned property.

"We're trying to promote being fiscally responsible citizens," said Planning Commission Chairman Matthew Wirthlin. "We're sending mixed messages if (students) walk out of school and see a high-interest check-cashing store where you can get easy money."

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission unanimously supported the proposal Wednesday night. The issue will go before the City

Council for approval as soon as next month.

Critics of payday lenders say the businesses are predatory against low-income people, seniors and minorities. The companies offer small cash advances — usually between $100 and $500 — with no credit checks. The loans carry high annual interest rates that in Utah average 521 percent, about $20 on the biweekly payments on a $100 loan.

There are an estimated 49 payday lenders operating in Salt Lake City, said Nole Walkingshaw, city planner. City leaders hope that number will go down as businesses close or relocate.

The city's planning staff also recommended regulating the number of the short-loan stores by allowing only one such business per 10,000 residents. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Salt Lake City's population at 180,651 as of July 2007, which under the proposal would set the cap for payday-loan businesses at 18.

The Planning Commission chose to do away with the cap and instead increase the buffer between payday lenders from the proposed 600 feet to a half mile.

Nine cities in Salt Lake County have density or zoning restrictions on payday lenders. In May, the Salt Lake County Council approved a similar ordinance for the unincorporated area.

In 2005, West Valley City became the first Utah city to limit payday lenders. Other Salt Lake County cities limiting payday lenders are Draper, Midvale, Murray, Sandy, South Salt Lake, South Jordan, Taylorsville and West Jordan.

Orem and American Fork in Utah County also have such ordinances in place, and Provo is considering similar restrictions.

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