L.I. Clothesline Ban: Uptight, All Wet

You’d think a community pounded by Hurricane Sandy that went more than a week without power would embrace a simple, effective and reliable energy-saving measure, but apparently appearances supersede practicality in tony Great Neck Village on Long Island’s North Shore, which voted last week to ban clotheslines from front yards.

Violators would be subject to a $1,000 fine, 15 days in jail or both – almost as harsh a sanction, I suspect, as the penalty for failing to wear white shorts at the Great Neck Country Club tennis courts or neglecting to replace divots on the golf course.

“Frankly, I think it's rather disconcerting for people to come into a neighborhood and view on the front-filled lawn of someone's home, various articles of clothing, undergarments, what have you, flapping in the breeze,” Jeffrey Bass, a member of the village board of trustees, was quoted as saying in various media outlets.

Village Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, who proposed the new law because of a complaint from a resident upset by a neighbor’s front-yard clothesline, sniffed, “I think that I can reiterate that we are embarrassed there is a need for this.”

The ordinance does permit backyard clotheslines – as long as they’re at least 10 feet from any neighbor’s property.

Frankly, I’m not surprised a Thurston Howell-like law would pass in Glen Cove, where such barons as J. P. Morgan and F. W. Woolworth built sprawling private estates in the 19th century, giving way to its Gold Coast nickname. It turns out I had a passing connection, literally, to the exclusive enclave a few years ago when two friends – a rabbi and a psychiatrist (no joke!) joined me on a 13-day, 303-mile circumnavigation of Long Island in kayaks.

After taking the ferry from New London to Orient Point we began paddling west along the island’s North Shore and reached Glen Cove, nearly 100 miles distant, just before dark on the fourth day. Alas, we could find no public takeouts, only private mansions and yacht clubs, so we executed a stealth landing worthy of Navy Seals. A waiting car whose driver we summoned by cellphone spirited us away before the local constabulary could respond.

After spending the night with friends on Long Island we returned to the site and executed a pre-dawn stealth launch, paddling like bandits until we were well offshore.

I haven’t been back to Glen Cove since then, but I’m tempted to return and rent a house for a few days just to test the new clothesline ordinance. I have a pretty colorful collection of garments I wear while running, cutting firewood, spreading composted manure on my garden and other activities, and I’m sure they would stand out handsomely among so many yards surrounded by wrought iron gates.

I’m a firm believer in clotheslines and laundry racks, and also have been known to drape wet clothes on the deck railing when I’m too lazy to pin them to the line that runs between our house and one of the woodsheds. (If I’m expecting, say, a royal visit, I will move the clothes to the laundry room).

A few years ago I also cut off a limb from a silver beech tree, leaving some of the branch ends protruding a few inches. Then I split the limb lengthwise and lag-screwed it to a beam near one of the wood stoves. The branch stubs serve as laundry hooks, and when the stove is cranking, as it is now, it takes less than an hour for a soaking wet towel to become dry as a bone.

Contrary to the impression I may be giving, we don’t wash our clothes by pounding them with rocks alongside a stream, and own not only a modern washing machine but also an electric dryer – but I use the dryer as often as I do a gas-powered leaf-blower or electric can opener, which loyal readers realize means never.

I’m not alone in this passion. A “right-to-dry” movement has spread across the country in recent years fighting – and overturning – dozens of clothesline bans similar to the one adopted in Glen Cove.

The Sightline Institute of Seattle, Wash., an independent, nonprofit research and communications center dedicated to making the Northwest a global model of sustainability, reported earlier this year that "tens of millions across the United States live where homeowners associations or apartment or condo rules ban clotheslines.”

On the bright side, though, the institute noted lawsuits filed in Florida, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland and Vermont overturned these bans, but various clothesline restrictions of questionable legality remain on the books in 13 other states.

According to the institute, courts have repeatedly supported the concept of “solar access,” noting, “The legal terminology varies, but the letter and spirit of these laws has one overarching message: homeowners may utilize the power of the sun.”

So get ready, Glen Cove. We may yet see the day when George DuPont Pratt’s magnificent village estate Killenworth – formerly used by the Soviet Union for its United Nations delegation, where both Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban President Fidel Castro once stayed – may no longer have embassy flags flapping in the breeze, but BVDs.



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