Joliet drafting rules for 'charity' donation boxes

Karen Sorensen | 6/19/2014, 9:11 a.m.
Joliet officials are trying to put a lid on the proliferation ofdonation bins that have popped up all over the ...
A new ordinance that would set rules for charity donation bins, such as these located in the Kmart store parking lot near Larkin Avenue and Jefferson Street, is being drafted by Joliet city staff. Karen Sorensen

Joliet officials are trying to put a lid on the proliferation ofdonation bins that have popped up all over the city by creating anordinance to regulate such things as location and appearance.

They also want to choose one group whose donation boxes would be located on city property, possibly with proceeds going to charity, said Councilman Terry Morris – Dist. 5, who chairs the city's land use committee.

Right now, the boxes often appear overnight without a property owner's permission and with little information on the group seeking donated clothing, shoes, books and other items, Morris said.

Often they imply they're related to a charity, but they are actually owned by for-profit companies that sell the donated goods to charities to sell in thrift shops or for recycling purposes.

While some municipalities, such as Romeoville, have outlawed them completely, Joliet officials prefer to regulate them so that they can control and prohibit those that become problematic, Morris said.

Initially, the idea was to limit those in the city to only nonprofit organizations, but concerns about potential lawsuits being filed by for-profit companies prompted committee members to reevaluate that restriction, he said.

That may be wise for other reasons as well, Morris said, since any item that gets recycled -- regardless of whether a group is making money from it or not -- is one less item that goes in a landfill or remains dormant rather than used.

"I personally feel, with the economy as it is, that these are things that can aid a lot of people," Morris said. "If we didn't have them, I just think a lot of things will end up being thrown in the trash and then they go to the landfill."

The ordinance would require any company that wants to set up a donation box to get the written permission of the property on which they will be located and to obtain a permit from the city. They would also have to meet specific criteria about the box construction and appearance and to adhere to rules governing site maintenance, especially in regards to picking up donated items that accumulate outside the boxes, Morris said.

The city would retain the ability to reject any box at its discretion, which will prevent an excessive number of boxes from being put up in any one area, he said. And donation boxes that are placed without permission or violate the rules will be confiscated.

City staff has been directed by the committee to put together a final draft of the ordinance, which will go to the city council at a future meeting for final approval.

Not everyone agrees, however, that the boxes are a good idea. Romeoville Mayor John Noak said his village passed an ordinance several years ago that prohibits boxes from being located in parking lots and other public areas because of the potential that they will negatively impact charities that rely on public donations and because they have the potential to become eyesores.

"We've been very quick to enforce our ordinance," Noak said. "Otherwise, they become a burden on the community. There's the maintenance issue, and many belong to not easily verifiable organizations. ... There are good organizations out there that do these things, and will pick things up at residences, so why hurt them."

Plainfield passed an ordinance three or four years ago that allows the donations bins but is more restrictive than the one proposed by Joliet, village Planner Michael Garrigan said. Any company that wants to put up a Box must obtain a special use permit from the village board, which is free to say no for any reason, he said.

And the board has said no, probably more often than it's said yes, Garrigan said.

"I think the mayor felt pretty strongly that many of them become eyesores, especially when they get too full," Garrigan said.