City cracks down on donation boxes

Sep. 06, 2013 @ 12:37 PM

A zoning amendment passed unanimously Tuesday night will decrease the number of donation boxes around Monroe. 

According to a report, city staff had noticed and received complaints about the increasing number of donation boxes throughout the city. The boxes were often in parking spaces or buffer zones, staff found. 

In addition to the aesthetic value and the loss of parking spaces, there was also a concern about the legitimacy of the boxes. 

“Several of the organizations that have boxes places in the city imply that they are benefiting charity or non-profit groups,” a staff report read. “In actuality, it appears that most of the organizations use the donations to benefit for-profit companies.” 

Director of Planning and Development Lisa Stiwinter said the city received several complaints about the donation boxes. She said she cannot remember when the boxes started showing up in Monroe and in other municipalities. 

“It just seemed to be getting more and more and a lot of property owners...didn’t even know they were there,” she said. 

She said many of the boxes seemed to have popped up. 

“It really started becoming a problem when the donations started accumulating outside the box and we would get complaints regarding that,” Stiwinter said. 

The ordinance passed Tuesday night limits the boxes to the general business zone. It also allows only non-profit organizations to operate the donation boxes and they may only put the boxes on a lot owned or leased by their organization. Proof of 501 (c)(3) status will be required when applying for a permit for a donation box. 

Stiwinter said they have not heard from local nonprofit groups about the new ordination. She noted that ordinance is targeted for these donation boxes and none of the ones in the area are operated by local non-profit companies. 

She said that when they researched the boxes, they found that many of the companies were selling the donations overseas. 

“Really, it’s not going for a non-profit,” Stiwinter said. 

A staff report cited a 2005 report from Oxfam International that said the global trade in second-hand clothing is a $1 billion year industry. 

No zoning permits have been applied for or approved for any of the existing boxes. Stiwinter said they have been interpreting an existing ordinance that deals with storage units and pods. 

Many of the existing donation boxes have been removed and she said some will be interesting to see how they can get them removed. 

The recent outbreak of donation boxes is not unique to Monroe. 

“It is a fairly new problem that is occurring within the last year or so,” Stiwinter said. 

She said Indian Trail has been addressing the boxes under an existing ordinance. The ordinance passed Tuesday is similar to Albemarle and Cary.