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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Supervisors approve restrictions on donation drop boxes

Donation boxes on John Marr Drive in Annandale.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved new zoning rules Nov. 17 to regulate donation drop boxes.

The new rules, which take effect immediately, are needed because the boxes – which are supposed to be for old clothes and shoes – often attract litter and have become dumping grounds for old furniture, mattresses, and other junk.

Under the zoning amendment, donation boxes:
  • Cannot be larger than seven feet tall, six feet wide, and six feet long.
  • Are limited to two boxes per property in an area not to exceed a total of 120 square feet.
  • Must have written permission from the property owner. 
  • Must be subject to regular collections and must be emptied within 48 hours following a property owner’s request.
  • Must not have junk or trash left outside the boxes for more than 24 hours.
  • Must have the following information listed on the outside of the box – name and telephone number of the owner/operator, name of the party responsible for removing donated items, the kind of items sought for donation, and a statement prohibiting liquids and dumping.
  • May only be placed on certain commercial properties, such as shopping centers, that are 40,000 square feet or larger, and in a residential district on lots with a non-residential principal use, like a church, or in conjunction with approval for another use by a special permit, special exception, or proffered rezoning and only when shown on an approved development plan.
  • Must be screened from view from the first-story window of any neighboring dwelling.
  • Cannot interfere with vehicular or pedestrian circulation.
  • Must be weather proof and constructed of painted metal, plastic, or other noncombustible material.
Previously, donation boxes were not explicitly covered under the Zoning Ordinance and were treated like an accessory structure, such as a shed or garage.

During the board discussion, Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, who had long advocated for the removal of donation boxes, said, “For a lot of people this was a no brainer. They just want to get rid of the boxes.”

Fairfax County Planning and Zoning staff have been directed to inform property owners, donation box operators, and business groups about the new rules.

During the  public hearing before the board voted to restrict donation boxes, Janet Newport of the Barcroft Mews Homeowner Association in Mason District said her community supports the new rules but expressed some concerns about whether the restrictions could be interpreted as violating free speech.

Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee) raised some questions about how the new rules would be enforced – and whether the enforcement process could be sped up.

A member of the Department of Code Compliance staff said a property owner would be given at least 30 days to comply if found to be in violation of the rules. Supervisor Gerry Hyland (Mount Vernon) argued that violators should be given less time to comply because these boxes can be easily moved, unlike permanent structures.


  1. It appears that this ordinance closely follows the federal appeals court's ruling on donation boxes in the Planet Aid case to avoid the sorts of restrictions that might violate the free speech rights of donation box owners. This should significantly reduce the number of donation boxes in the county.

    1. The boxes were illegal without the changes made by our Board of Supervisors. The new rules did just the opposite of what they are advertised by County staff, the Planning Commission and the BOS to do. Before, it only required the will of the Board to enforce the existing regulations to get rid of these modified, street side dumpsters. Now we are stuck with them forever or until we have a new Board of Directors. Stupidity is not a sufficient answer. It's the money, its the corruption.

  2. When can I start calling Code Compliance? I have several not in code already.

    1. Like the article says, "a property owner would be given at least 30 days to comply if found to be in violation of the rules." After that, the county may take your complaint, but probably only if the box is on your property.

  3. County officials foolishly allowed the controversial Planet Aid to have a role in creating these regulations.

    Planet Aid recently gained a flimsy victory in the Court of Appeals, which ruled that donation bins are “free speech,” making local bin bans “unconstitutional.” Planet Aid says it doesn’t want to sue cities over such bans — the list is growing — but instead “supports proper regulation.” Clearly, this corporate bully is using the threat of lawsuit to foist its gutless “sample legislation” on local governments to gain advantages.

    One recommendation calls for ridiculously low registration fees — $25 or $50 per bin — which would likely fall far short of covering the actual costs of regulation. It’s naïve to think that an ordinance would suddenly make all bin operators behave. Bins may continue to be blighted, or placed without permission in open defiance of the law. Who’ll pay for all the enforcement?

    Some towns have properly researched the true costs of bin regulation. In its 2012 ordinance, the City Council of San Pablo, Calif. states that a “$1,768 application fee for each use permit … has been evaluated and does not exceed the cost of providing the service.” Further comments (sorry for length):

    1) Planet Aid’s “free speech” tactic is a desperate ruse to distract us from the fact that many cities have seen a crying need to stop Planet Aid and its ilk from allowing their bins to become eyesores. Another concern is over out-of-town clothes collectors causing donations to dwindle at local charities. And some complain that non-local companies get a free ride ― pay no local taxes or fees ― even while little or none of the proceeds from their collections benefit the local populace.

    2) Planet Aid is exploiting its newfound legal leverage in even more ludicrous ways, such as in its lawsuit against the City of Mishawaka, Ind., not over a bin ban, but because the city council voted in April to deny zoning variances that would have allowed the company to turn a long-vacant building into a donation center. But council members said their key concern was using the city's gateway zone as a donation site.

    3) Planet Aid is not a good charity. The Chicago-based CharityWatch gave the nonprofit an “F” grade after analyzing its 2013 tax form and audited financial statements, determining that Planet Aid spent only 29% of its expenses on programs. As bad as that is, the actual percentage may be far lower than even that, according to a 2009 investigation by WTTG News in Washington DC (see report, at end)

    4) Worse, Danish prosecutors link Planet Aid to a cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. 5 leaders of the group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    5) The Teachers Group (TG), the controlling body of the broader Tvind organization, is reportedly a political cult based on communist ideology. TG leaders control their followers to an alarming degree, according to ex-members.

    Self-described humanitarian programs run by Tvind-linked groups, many supported by Planet Aid, have been criticized by ex-volunteers as being ineffective, culturally insensitive, environmentally unsustainable and even abusive toward volunteers.

    Similarly, Tvind’s “schools” around the world have elicited many complaints from former students, with allegations ranging from low standards of “training,” to dire living conditions, unreasonable work hours, bullying and even a “cult-like” atmosphere. Some ex-students also claim they were required to beg for money on American or European city streets and were exploited as free labor benefiting TG-owned businesses.

    Most disturbingly, many young TG members and Tvind participants have over the years been raped, injured or killed during ill-advised land and sea excursions. In many of these tragedies, the victims’ families directly blamed senior Tvind officials for knowingly endangering the youths. Tvind has never admitted wrongdoing.

    (Concluded in my 2nd comment)

    1. 6) The profound irony: Planet Aid asserts its right to “free speech,” while the organization behind it denies that very freedom to its members. In his 2000 affidavit to Danish prosecutors, Steen Thomsen, a TG member from 1977 to 1998, listed his reasons for leaving the group. One was “The total lack of personal freedom. Tvind is a cult, just as much as ... the Moonies are a cult. As part of the Teachers Group, you do not have the right of speaking or writing, … any private life, … any private possessions. All your life you dedicate to the Cult.”

      Sound like a group you’d care to support? You are by giving your stuff to Planet Aid, if Danish authorities are correct. Research before donating, and boycott Planet Aid. Support legitimate, local charities instead. Thanks for the chance to express my opinions.

      Google search:

      “Kindness into Cash” - exposé of used clothes company Planet Aid - pt. 1
      [for more info, click ‘Show More’ while on that page.]

      Also Google search:

      Planet Aid's “Recycling” Program, Debunked! – CharityWatch

  4. Looks like a monument to the Mason Dump. Who is the artist?