TARPON SPRINGS — A scourge has invaded Tarpon Springs, and it comes in the form of (mostly) metal baskets on wheels that have been cropping up in unwanted places, including public rights-of-way and private property, throughout the city for years.
The problem is wayward shopping carts, and according to Tarpon residents and officials, what began as more of a nuisance issue has transformed into a full-blown epidemic.
“Although this one is cute, the hundreds littering our city are not,” resident Chrys Lang said during a commission meeting in September, where she placed a miniature cart on the podium. “It seems to be an epidemic.”
Lang said she spoke with the managers of several retailers in the area and while some are more vigilant than others about locking up their shopping carts, the problem is not going away. So, she turned to City Commission for help.
“I would like to see if the council here can somehow make it if you’re going to use carts in our city, you either lock them up or be fined,” Lang said.
As it turned out, her pleas did not fall on deaf ears.
On Jan. 22, the City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance on first reading that is designed to curtail the runaway shopping cart problem.
“I know our Public Works department does their best to go around and actively, when they find them in the right of way, remove them and get them back to where they belong, which is the stores,” Planning and Zoning Director Heather Urwiller said during the discussion of the item.
At present, the city has nothing in its codes that require the owners of the carts to manage them, Urwiller said.
The proposed ordinance, Urwiller explained, includes a requirement that retailers identify their own carts and develop a retrieval plan that is approved by the city’s code enforcement unit. It would also mandate that the retailers post signs stating the removal of carts from their property is against Florida law.
Violators of the ordinance would be subject to fines and have to go through the code enforcement process, Urwiller said. Stray carts would be rounded up by staff and held at a city facility.
Despite repeated efforts to contact the corporate headquarters of the retailers, none had responded by the Jan. 22 meeting, Urwiller said, adding this is “a little disappointing.”
“I think this is something that we need,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said of the cart control ordinance. “We have shopping carts all over the place. So, we need to do something about that.”
Commissioner Rea Sieber called it a “great ordinance.”
Commissioner Jacob Karr, however, called for even tougher restrictions, stating, “I think we should add some more penalties and other aspects.”
He suggested requiring big box retailers to install geofencing, which electronically prevents the removal of carts from the property, as well as increased fines.
“It’s a needed ordinance,” Karr said. “But unless they’re getting their hand slapped hard enough, they’re just gonna say, ‘I’m sorry, we’ll work on this and keep picking these up.’”
Police Chief Robert Kochen noted that the large retails corporations aren’t encouraging their customers to remove carts from their property and leave them scattered around the city.
“Even though they’re big corporations, they’re still victims of a crime,” Kochen said, adding, “I think this is a strong ordinance.”
Prior to the commission 5-0 vote to tentatively approve the ordinance, pending second approval on Feb. 12, Commissioner David Banther thanked Lang, who wasn’t at the Jan. 22 meeting, for bringing the problem to light. “It would be great if we could let her know that what she asked for actually came about,” he said.
In an interview, Lang said she greatly appreciated the commission’s effort to curtail the wayward cart problem.
“I am very happy they listened because with this city being designated one of the quaintest small towns in the country, I don’t think there should be shopping carts everywhere!” Lang said by phone a few days later.
Lang explained she’s been fighting the wayward cart battle since she moved to town five years ago, and it finally got to the point where enough was enough.
“I’m very pleased with the commission,” she said. “I think it’s awesome they listened to their constituents. They have my vote.”