Smithfield planner wary of allowing gold dealers

Published 6:27 pm Thursday, October 19, 2023

Planning Commissioner Randy Pack is worried that a proposed change in Smithfield’s zoning ordinance to allow businesses involved in the buying and selling of gold and jewelry may bring a criminal element to town.

Community Development and Planning Director Tammie Clary told commissioners on Oct. 12 that staff had received an inquiry from a prospective gold and jewelry dealer about setting up in town, but that the zoning ordinance does not presently have a mechanism for approving such a business.

The proposed addition to the zoning ordinance would add separate definitions for “precious metals dealer,” “secondhand dealer” and “pawnbroker.”

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Smithfield’s zoning ordinance already references payday lending establishments, pawn shops and check-cashing establishments, which are presently allowed only by special use permit on lands zoned residential office, downtown, highway retail commercial, planned shopping center, planned mixed-use development and light and heavy industrial.

The planners are proposing to prohibit precious metal dealers and secondhand dealers from lands zoned residential office or downtown, but allow them by special use permit in the other commercial areas. They’re also proposing to eliminate residential office and downtown zoning as allowable by special use permit for pawn shops, check-cashing establishments and payday lending establishments.

“We don’t have to be everything to everybody; we’re still a small town,” Pack said. “You want to sell your gold, there’s other places to do it besides the town of Smithfield.”

According to Town Attorney William Riddick, Smithfield cannot impose a town-wide ban on a type of legal business, nor effectively do so by declining to add the state’s definitions for precious metals dealers and secondhand dealers to its zoning ordinance. But the town can limit where in town such businesses are allowed to operate.

Pack contends gold and jewelry dealers may find themselves catering to people who steal gold and want to turn it into cash.

Virginia law already requires dealers keep electronic records of any gold or jewelry they buy, and file a bill of sale to police within 24 hours of the purchase. According to Deputy Police Chief Chris Meier, dealers can use the e-filing system free of charge, though police must pay for access. The same law applies to pawn shops and even some gaming stores that deal in used merchandise.

Riddick cited Liberty Coins, a dealer in gold and rare coins that for years has been based out of downtown Franklin 30 miles south of Smithfield, as an example of what he termed “an entirely respectable business.”

“If it’s a lawful occupation, you need to provide for it,” Riddick said.

The proposed zoning ordinance changes will need to go before a public hearing at the Planning Commission level. Then, the commissioners will vote on a recommendation to Smithfield’s Town Council, which has the final say as to whether the changes become law.