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Friday, July 24, 2015

Planning Commission endorses zoning amendment to regulate donation boxes

A drop box on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, between Flagship Carwash Center and Fast Auto Loans.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission on July 23 unanimously endorsed an amendment to the zoning ordinance to regulate donation drop boxes. The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing on the  measure Oct. 6.

The amendment defines a donation drop box as “a portable outdoor container for the collection and storage of unwanted textile and household items that are periodically removed from the container.”

The BoS had approved a resolution in June calling for a zoning amendment to address concerns about donation boxes overflowing with junk and attracting unwanted furniture. Items placed in the boxes are recycled. Some used clothing and shoes are sold to retailers; most items are sold to companies that repurpose them as insulation or other products.

The amendment would permit the boxes to commercially zoned properties (C-5, C-6, C-7, C-8, and C-9) on lots of at least 40,000 square feet, certain residential properties where the principal use is not a dwelling, and in certain other circumstances.

There could be no more than two donation boxes per lot. The boxes could be no larger than seven feet high, six feet wide, and six feet in length. They would be prohibited on any required open space, in any landscaped area, on a street or sidewalk, or in any area that blocks or interferes with vehicular or pedestrian circulation.

They would have to be “weather-proof; constructed of painted metal, plastic, or other similarly noncombustible material; maintained in good repair and in a manner that complies with all applicable building code and fire code regulations; secured from unauthorized access and screened from street-level view of any abutting residential property.”

The ordinance requires donation boxes to display the name and phone number of the operator or owner, the entity responsible for collecting items, and a notice stating that items are not to be left outside the box and that liquids and trash are prohibited.

During the Planning Commission meeting zoning staff addressed addressed some of the comments raised at a public hearing on July 8. One commenter urged the ordinance to state that property owners have the right to prohibit donation boxes. That is unnecessary, a staff member stated, because owners already have that right and also have the right to remove boxes. The staff would prefer donation box operators to contact property owners before installing boxes but don’t have the authority to require that.

Another commenter suggested limiting the boxes to those operated by nonprofits. That would be a violation of free speech, the staffer said, and the zoning ordinance only addresses land use issues, not ownership.

The zoning department plans to send warning letters to property owners to inform  them about the zoning change and how to submit complaints to the Department of Code Compliance. The staff will also contact business groups and donation box providers to encourage compliance.


  1. Looks like a dressed u porta potty or a dumpster. Return to sender.

  2. They should be required to say where the items go and if they are a non for profit.