The Right to Dry....

Submitted by Charles Frost on Thu, 09/20/2007 - 19:09.

A Green Movement Is Roiling America

Clothesline Has Neighbors Bent Out of Shape in Bend; An Illegal Solar Device?
September 18, 2007; Page A1
BEND, Ore. -- It was a sunny, 70-degree day here in Awbrey Butte, an exclusive neighborhood of big, modern houses surrounded by native pines.
To Susan Taylor, it was a perfect time to hang her laundry out to dry. The 55-year-old mother and part-time nurse strung a clothesline to a tree in her backyard, pinned up some freshly washed flannel sheets -- and, with that, became a renegade.
The regulations of the subdivision in which Ms. Taylor lives effectively prohibit outdoor clotheslines. In a move that has torn apart this otherwise tranquil community, the development's managers have threatened legal action. To the developer and many residents, clotheslines evoke the urban blight they sought to avoid by settling in the Oregon mountains.
"This bombards the senses," interior designer Joan Grundeman says of her neighbor's clothesline. "It can't possibly increase property values and make people think this is a nice neighborhood."
Ms. Taylor and her supporters argue that clotheslines are one way to fight climate change, using the sun and wind instead of electricity. "Days like this, I can do multiple loads, and within two hours, it's done," said Ms. Taylor. "It smells good, and it feels different than when it comes out of the dryer."
The battle of Awbrey Butte is an unanticipated consequence of increasing environmental consciousness, pitting the burgeoning right-to-dry movement against community standards across the country.
The clothesline was once a ubiquitous part of the residential landscape. But as postwar Americans embraced labor-saving appliances, clotheslines came to be associated with people who couldn't afford a dryer. Now they are a rarity, purged from the suburban landscape by legally enforceable development restrictions.

Nationwide, about 60 million people now live in about 300,000 "association governed" communities, most of which restrict outdoor laundry hanging, says Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, an Alexandria, Va., group that lobbies on behalf of homeowners associations.

 But the rules are costly to the environment -- and to consumers -- clothesline advocates argue. Clothes dryers account for 6% of total electricity consumed by U.S. households, third behind refrigerators and lighting, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. It costs the typical household $80 a year to run a standard electric dryer, according to a calculation by E Source Cos., in Boulder, Colo., which advises businesses on reducing energy consumption.
Alexander Lee, founder of clothesline advocacy group Project Laundry List in Concord, N.H., says the clothesline movement is "an outgrowth of interest in what-can-I-do environmentalism." Mr. Lee says he gets more and more email seeking advice on how to hang a clothesline despite neighborhood covenants restricting them.
Ten states, including Nevada and Wisconsin, limit homeowners associations' ability to restrict the installation of solar-energy systems, or assign that power to local authorities, says Erik J.A. Swenson, a Washington, D.C.-based partner at law firm King & Spalding LLP, who has written about the policies. He says it's unclear in most of these states whether clotheslines qualify as "solar" devices. Only the laws in Florida and Utah expressly include clotheslines.
In Prescott, Ariz., Jessie Bourke, a 58-year-old mother of two grown children, strung her first outdoor clothesline this past spring. "I had been thinking about it a long time," she says. "We live in Northern Arizona, and it gets hot here." Using a dryer started to seem absurd, she says. Recalling the deed restrictions she and her husband signed when they bought their house 13 years ago, she decided to install a clothesline under her deck in the backyard.
"I don't want my neighbors to be offended if they see laundry hanging out," she says. She has been using it several times a week.
Kelly Guess, a mother of two teenage children who lives on a golf-course development in Holly Springs, N.C., uses a retractable clothesline that she tucks behind a wall when it's not in use. "I'm definitely breaking the covenants," she admits.
Ms. Taylor in Bend had always used a clothesline before moving to the subdivision in 1996. Awbrey Butte's Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, established by local developer Brooks Resources Corp., require that "clothes drying apparatus...shall be screened from view." Not an easy task in a community where fencing is also "discouraged" in the covenants.
The clothesline ban gave Ms. Taylor pause when she moved here, she says, but she and her husband decided they could live with it. Then, in May, she heard an environmental lawyer on the radio who "talked about this narrow window of opportunity for us to respond to global warming," Ms. Taylor recalls. "I said, 'Dang it, that's it. My clothesline is going up.' "
Then the trouble started. One neighbor asked if it was temporary. Next came a phone call -- and then a series of letters -- from Brooks Resources. The first letter, dated June 12, warned that "laundry lines are not permitted in the Awbrey Butte Subdivision," adding that "many owners in Awbrey Butte take great pride in their home and surrounding areas."
Ms. Taylor responded two days later with a letter asserting that the rule is "outdated." She requested a change in the rules to "reflect our urgent need and responsibility to help global warming by encouraging energy conservation."
The Awbrey Butte Architectural Review Committee "appreciates your desire to make a difference for the cause of global warming," responded Brooks Resources Owner-Relations Manager Carol Haworth. But she pointed out that homeowners agree to the rules before they buy their homes, "and therefore the ARC is required to uphold those guidelines as they now exist."
The letter more sternly asked "that you discontinue this practice by July 9, 2007, to avoid legal action which will be taken after that date."
Ms. Taylor responded by pointing out that the subdivision is "blatantly full of noncompliant owners" who display everything from plastic play equipment to exterior paint colors that don't meet the requirement of "medium to dark tones." She added: "Who am I hurting by hanging clothes out to dry?"
Brooks Resources repeated its threat of legal action, and then advised Ms. Taylor to "develop a plan to screen your outdoor laundry and submit the plan to the ARC for review." It also suggested the possibility of formal proceedings to get the rules amended, which would require 51% of homeowners' support in writing.
The following month, Ms. Taylor constructed a fabric screen to conceal her clothesline. The committee, which included Brooks Resources Chairman Michael P. Hollern, gave it a thumbs down. "It doesn't blend with the home or the native surroundings," says Ms. Haworth.
Mr. Hollern says, "Personally, I think people probably ought to screen their laundry from other people's view. If you feel differently, you should probably be living somewhere else."
Many neighbors agree. When Ms. Grundeman first noticed the Taylor clothesline, she assumed it was temporary. "My first thought was, 'Oh gosh, her dryer must have broken,' " says the interior designer. Then it became a regular occurrence, and she called Brooks Resources to complain.
Ms. Taylor does have supporters. "I don't think it's unsightly," says John McLaughlin, a former sporting-goods executive who lives down the street from Ms. Taylor. "I like the values that go along with it." He says he may hang his own clothesline.
Facing the threat of legal action, Ms. Taylor has in recent days resorted to hanging the laundry in her garage, with the door open slightly. But she says that denies her laundry the direct benefits of the sun and the fresh mountain air. She is thinking of moving to a less-restrictive neighborhood.
Write to Anne Marie Chaker at anne-marie [dot] chaker [at] wsj [dot] com