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Globe Editorial

Clotheslines: Yes, in your back yard

January 18, 2010

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There are many good reasons to hang clothes outside to dry: It saves money, conserves energy, and ensures a decent dose of fresh air. But not everyone cheers at the sight of someone else’s sheets and underwear flitting in the breeze. And many homeowners’ associations, citing the need for pleasant views, ban the practice altogether.

In light of such battles, it’s hard not to root for Peggy Brace, an idealistic clothesline user from Concord. This spring, she plans to ask the Concord Town Meeting to support the use of clotheslines, and to bar homeowners’ associations from standing in the way of line-drying.

If Brace prevails, it would be a largely symbolic move, unlikely to override the power of existing homeowners’ associations, says Marcia Rasmussen, Concord’s planning director. Concord is hardly unique. Those associations, which have jurisdiction over some 60 million Americans, have legal power to make aesthetic decrees, says Frank Askin, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law. It generally takes a state statute to override them.

That’s the chief tool available to the “right-to-dry movement,’’ and it’s worth using at a time when sound environmental practices are in everyone’s interest. Several states are considering “right-to-dry’’ bills, as well as bills that would prevent homeowners’ associations from banning solar panels. Massachusetts ought to do the same. Indeed, when it comes to clothes, there’s an easy solution that should please earth-lovers and aesthetes alike: allow homeowners’ associations to restrict the use of clotheslines . . . to the back yard.

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