Fairfax Launches the Battle of the Bins

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fairfax County is trying to stop the invasion of massive storage and trash containers parked on its streets.

Fairfax police, at the urging of Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), have established a 24-hour hotline for residents to report any "portable on-demand storage" units or Dumpster-like bins parked on neighborhood streets. The police traffic unit has been assigned to investigate such complaints and will give the containers' owners four working days to remove the containers or have the police remove them at the owner's expense.

Police in Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties said they were aware of Fairfax's approach but had not had enough complaints to delve into investigating and towing such containers.

Bulova said her office was fielding a complaint every two weeks or so, except in winter, about large storage units obstructing the view of drivers on narrow streets or hindering drivers backing out of driveways, or people fearful that children might dart out from behind one into traffic. "And nobody's doing anything about it," Bulova said.

A spokeswoman for the PODS company did not return two calls for comment.

Bulova's staff investigated and found that state law prohibits placing large containers on state streets without proper permission. But Virginia transportation authorities told her they didn't have the resources to pursue container violators.

Local police, however, also had the authority to investigate and remove such potential traffic hazards. So Bulova sat down with Fairfax police commanders, who agreed to set up the anti-container hotline.

Large refuse bins and storage containers such as PODS are legal if placed on private property, including driveways and front yards. "There are totally legitimate reasons for people to be using them," Bulova said. But her staff found people are using them "for additional storage, instead of putting up a legitimate storage shed. Or using them for a business being run out of the home."

Once the police receive a report of a container on a street, an officer will investigate. If the investigator determines the container is creating a traffic hazard, it will be removed immediately, Officer Don Gotthardt said, and the contents will be purged and stored by the police.

If the container isn't a traffic hazard but does violate the state law, police will notify the owner of the container -- not necessarily the homeowner -- and the owner will have four working days to remove it, Gotthardt said.

After four days, the police will have the container removed and the cost for removal and storage will be imposed on the owner. A misdemeanor summons also will be issued to the owner, Gotthardt said.

Spokesmen for the Arlington and Prince William police and Loudoun sheriff said they had not received enough complaints to devote more resources to the issue.

A Prince William spokeswoman said when someone sees an illegally parked container, they should call the non-emergency line, and police will check it out.

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