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Fairfax County leaders question if abandoned shopping cart ordinance would work

Abandoned shopping cart (via David Clarke/Unsplash)

Abandoned shopping carts can create problems and even be left in streams, but a new state law seems to provide little help, Fairfax County supervisors say.

During a land use policy committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Board of Supervisors reexamined a Virginia law intended to discourage people from taking shopping carts away from businesses, worrying that introducing a local ordinance might just add an exhaustive and ineffective process.

“What we’re asking of our investigators is extraordinarily time-consuming and fruitless,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said of the draft abandoned shopping cart ordinance.

A leading concern is that adding an ordinance may take up time and put an unnecessary administrative burden on county staff, who could, for example, document the same incident twice since the state law dictates that a cart’s owner get a 15-day notification period before it can be removed.

Currently, if a cart is blocking a road or a group is cleaning up a stream, there is no restriction on removing it.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a law in 2020 to allow counties to pass legislation to:

  • Fine people with a civil penalty up to $500 for removing shopping carts from stores’ premises and parking lots
  • Make stores liable for returning or disposing of abandoned carts, including paying up to $300 per cart that the county removes

The land use policy committee discussed the issue in December, though staff advised against adopting an ordinance and board members were skeptical. During the meeting, Chairman Jeff McKay voiced opposition to fining people trying to get groceries home.

The draft ordinance that the county presented on Tuesday only referenced fines for businesses — not individuals.

Even before the 2020 state law, the Commonwealth made removing shopping carts from store premises and parking lots a misdemeanor, with the potential for a fine up to $500.

“My problem with this is…it provides absolutely no incentive for people to stop stealing carts,” said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who also wondered if certain areas or customers might be disproportionately affected. “This is kind of outside the businesses’ control.”

Photo via David Clarke/Unsplash

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