Schenectady County

Clothing donation boxes draw scrutiny in Glenville

A few years ago, the town enacted a law that made property owners purchase a 90-day permit to keep s

The blue box is 6 feet wide, 5 feet long and maybe 6 feet tall. People drop unwanted clothing and shoes into the box, and they’re shipped to a Glens Falls recycling company, where they are then sold to distributors across the country or other countries where they’re needed most.

For three years, it has sat at the edge of Mark Shaver’s property, about 20 feet from Route 50 and next to a lamppost that lights the parking lot of his business, High Mills Garage. People pull up to it, drop a bag full of belongings in and drive off.

The box’s location was never questioned, until one day in late April when a letter arrived in the mail.

“It was from the Town Building Department Code Enforcement,” Shaver said. “It said that the town had deemed the donation box that I have on my property a, let’s see, what did they call it? They called it a portable storage unit.”

A few years ago, the town enacted a law that made property owners purchase a 90-day permit to keep storage-type containers on their property. At the time, donation drop-boxes were not factored into the law. But as the drop-boxes have begun popping up in greater numbers, town officials are now hoping to regulate them the same way they regulate other storage containers.

The motivations for regulation are varied, ranging from quality of life issues to fairness to existing nonprofits whose boxes are regulated to a need to keep track of potentially misleading boxes. Mostly, though, the town has received calls about the boxes being a blight along the roadway.

“They can be kind of ugly,” said town Supervisor Chris Koetzle. “They’re right on the roadways, near the curbs, blocking views, and sometimes people worry because what people do is instead of putting their bags in the box they drop it in front of the box and it can become unsightly.”

Koetzle said he’s noticed 12 to 15 donation boxes around town, many popping up in just the last six months in front of private businesses along corridors like Freemans Bridge Road and Route 50. In one half-mile stretch along Freemans Bridge Road, there is a donation box in front of a diner, a pizza café and a sporting goods store.

Town officials say it’s also about fairness to local nonprofits like the Salvation Army and City Mission, which have secured permits for their drop boxes and underwent a site plan review to establish where they could put them and how long they could stay out.

“The Salvation Army has a store right in our town center and they take donations around back,” said Koetzle. “City Mission has a box it only puts out during business hours, so it’s not out all night. So it’s really grossly unfair to these existing businesses that went through this review that these other boxes are now popping up all over the place, unregulated.”

Another concern is the risk of scam charities. Municipalities across the nation have reported a rise in the number of drop boxes with misleading labels and appearances, designed to trick people into thinking their used belongings are going to charities or nonprofits when really they are going to for-profit corporations. In less-devious cases, some people have raised objections to boxes labeled as benefiting a local charity, when in reality, a slim percentage of the proceeds go to that charity.

In either instance, Koetzle said, it would be beneficial to regulate these drop boxes.

“I’ve seen red boxes, blue boxes and green boxes, and I know that some go to the City Mission and another goes to a local charity, but others you don’t really know,” he said. “And that’s our concern. If they’re not filling out permits and filing stuff with the town, we have no idea who they are and who they benefit.”

Shaver said he understands some of the town’s concerns, but not others. The drop box at his auto repair shop has always been clearly labeled. American Clothing Recycling Co., of Glens Falls, owns the box and gives a portion of the proceeds to the Northeast Parent & Child Society, a Schenectady nonprofit that provides residential, special education, foster care, mental health, family and career development programs.

Additionally, he has never had a problem with maintenance of the box.

“They are very good about maintaining it,” said Shaver. “If you look at their boxes, they’re well-kept, clean, no rust or anything. They work hard to maintain it in the wintertime by shoveling around it and so on. They empty the box at least once a week. It’s not blocking any views. There are no accidents happening because of it. Nobody’s ever hit it. Nobody’s ever done anything to it.”

Other local businesses received a letter from the town, too.

Richard Doyle, an employee at Mail ‘N’ More Shipping and Copy Center on Route 50, said his boss received the same letter about the donation box on their property.

“I know that we don’t see a large problem with the boxes being here,” he said. “It doesn’t sit close to the road. It’s not blocking vision. It’s on a corner of our site.”

The letter from the town will be rescinded, Koetzle said Wednesday. In it, the building inspector applied the same fee structure and timeline used for the storage containers — a $50 fee for a 90-day permit that can only be renewed once a year.

At a special Town Board meeting Wednesday night, the board discussed how they might incorporate the donation boxes into current storage container legislation, but ultimately decided to draw up a proposal for a law specific to the donation boxes. The law would have the box owners apply for an annual permit at a nominal fee of about $25. It would require the boxes be kept on blacktop in commercial zones a certain distance from streets and property lines and set a cap for the number of permits allowed in town each year.

Two companies in charge of such boxes — American Clothing Recycling Co. and the Institute for International Cooperation and Development — sent representatives to the meeting who said they understood the town’s concerns and would be happy to comply with an annual permit. Their only concern, they said, was setting the permit fee too high.

“I’m all for the American spirit of making money when and where you can,” said board member Alan Boulant. “But these boxes just came out of nowhere, and they should have to follow the same rules that everybody else has to.”

Other action

The town now has the legal authority to impose a penalty on anyone caught scavenging through residents’ garbage.

The Town Board voted unanimously to pass an anti-scavenger law Wednesday night after holding a public hearing on the proposal.

A smattering of residents turned out to voice both support and opposition to the law. Four residents said they were against the law, saying there’s no reason someone else shouldn’t feel free to take what someone else has deemed junk.

But ultimately the board sided with a resident who spoke out in support of the law, citing safety and public health issues scavenging can present — like a window stripped of its metal frame, leaving only glass behind, or a ceramic sink smashed to pieces for the copper piping inside.

The law will be in effect year-round, but is primarily intended to target those who have taken to scrounging through residents’ garbage during the town’s annual bulk pickup week. This year’s event — in which residents leave couches and other appliances at the curb for collection — kicks off Monday.

The law would impose a $500 fine or as much as six months in jail on anyone caught trespassing on private property to scavenge.

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