Stuffed 'pods' are source of simmering discontent


Peggy McCabe hauled box after box, along with her parents' antique steamer trunk, out of her house in Towson this week.

Her belongings were not destined for the garage or a moving truck.

She put them in a "pod."

"It's just exactly what we needed at this point," McCabe said of the big white box at the top of her driveway.

She was clearing the way for her first-floor ceiling to be repaired.

The storage units, often used by people preparing to move, have popped up more and more on streets and driveways in the past two years.

But some people complain that they're not always so temporary.

Governments in at least five states have taken steps to regulate the use of the containers, and now the Baltimore County Council is preparing to vote Monday on legislation that would do likewise.

"They're pretty big, they're not reflectorized and [people] are putting them out in the roadways," said Edward Reed, a county traffic inspector. "We've been struggling to deal with it."

Commonly known by the brand name Portable On Demand Storage, or PODS, a container is dropped off, the customer fills it up, and a truck hauls it to a storage facility or to a new home.

Others, such as McCabe, keep the containers at their homes during renovations.

About 400 PODS units are in use in Baltimore and surrounding counties, said Sean Lamont, a co-owner of the Baltimore franchise.

In the past year, governments in Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Virginia have moved to regulate use, according to news accounts.

In Gretna, La., this year, the City Council set a 30-day limit on the use of the units on private property. People who store them on public property face a fine of $500 or 10 days in jail.

Weston, Fla., residents can store the portable units on their property for four days once a year. Euless, Texas, residents must buy $15 permits and can store the containers on private property for up to 30 days.

The bill before the Baltimore County Council would restrict the use of pods on private property to 30 days. The containers could also be placed on public roads for three days, said Thomas J. Peddicord Jr., the council's secretary. Violators would face a $100 fine.

The containers, typically 8 feet tall and 12 or 16 feet wide, are an eyesore and a road hazard, some residents have complained.

A container appeared in Catherine Rupp's Arbutus neighborhood last year.

"I saw this contraption that picks them up and drops them. I thought, `Boy you had to be a genius to come up with it,'" Rupp said. But she wasn't pleased that the box was plopped in the road and left there, she said, for six months. Then came a second one, on the other side of the street.

"I thought, `Oh, jeez. This is idiotic,'" said Rupp, 82. "I live on a slight hill. The people that live beside me, they couldn't even see to get out of their driveways."

She and other residents contacted county public works officials over several months, and the pods have since been removed.

Under county law, a vehicle with a valid registration can be parked on a public street, but other objects are considered obstructions.

The containers are not the only objects obstructing public roads, Reed said. Trash bins stored outside homes during renovations are also a problem, he said.

"But the problem is try to enforce that," Reed said of the county's law against obstructing public roads. "The police overall do a pretty good job, but they've got way more important things to do than ride around, giving people tickets for putting trash cans on the street."

Reed said he has called homeowners to ask them to move the storage containers off the road.

Lamont, who opened the PODS Baltimore franchise with his brother two years ago, said he doesn't think the proposed legislation will hurt his business. He has discussed the bill's provisions with county officials.

He said he wants the limits to be extended because many renovations take longer than expected.

McCabe, the Towson resident, said she that has had a pod unit at her home since October but that the start of work on her home was delayed and she only recently began moving her belongings into the unit. The unit is far from the street, just outside her back door.

Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, who introduced the bill, said he will likely amend the bill to allow storage of the units on roads for five days. But he said he probably would not change the 30-day limit for private property.

Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, pointed out that erecting a permanent structure brings its own set of requirements.

"If you're going to put it there forever, it's like another structure," he said, "and you have to go through building permits, etc."

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