Local Government and Politics, News

Swampscott decides to ban plastic bags

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Meeting members approved a ban on plastic bags on Tuesday night, which will go into effect on Sept. 1.

With the new bylaw adopted, shoppers, including at grocery stores, will have to bring their own reusable bags into the store if they don’t want paper bags.

Swampscott joins its neighbors on either side, Salem and Marblehead.

“Just like Salem and Marblehead, we believe the time is right to reduce the use of those really thin plastic bags that you get at Stop & Shop,” said Naomi Dreeben, a member of the Board of Selectmen. “They are clogging up our oceans.”

Jeff Vaughan, Swampscott public health director, said the average consumer uses 530 single-use bags annually, an estimate he called conservative. He said a plastic shopping bag is in use for an average of 12 minutes — people place their groceries in them, get home and take them out and then throw the bags away.

Plastics kill animals on land and in the sea by suffocation, he said, and are polluting the ocean.

Officials said the ban reflects the town’s concern about the environmental impacts of plastic bags on the seacoast and habitat areas. Plastics have been getting into the ocean after floating up into the atmosphere and washing out into the water.

Vaughan cited a study from the World Economic Forum that found plastic in the ocean could outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050.

Town Meeting members also voted to indefinitely postpone an amendment to the demolition delay bylaw, which would have added an appeals process to the bylaw.

The Board of Selectmen recommended indefinitely postponing the article — the bylaw change, if approved, would have allowed developers to appeal a demolition delay imposed by the Historical Commission to the Board of Selectmen.

The proposal for the appeal came in the wake of the Historical Commission’s decision to place a nine-month demolition delay on White Court, the former Marian Court College, which halted a development team’s plans to build 18 oceanfront condominiums on the property.

The development team said the delay may have taken away their incentive to save the property, and recreate it as a replica. It once served as the summer White House of President Calvin Coolidge.

Donald Hause, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said it has been stated in social media and elsewhere that the board is anti-historic and has an anti-historic bias, and that the selectmen crafted the article for an appeals process in a vacuum without any input, two claims he stated were untrue.

Hause said there’s also been accusations that the board implemented a proposal for an appeal to benefit the developers of White Court, but if the appeal had been adopted, the developers would not have been able to appeal the decision of the Historical Commission.

But he said it is true the White Court development process before the Historical Commission is one of the reasons the board felt compelled to look into an appeal and revisit the bylaw.

If the White Court developer or another developer elected to sue the town because there is no appeals process, the matter would have to be settled in court. Hause said an appeals process is needed to protect the interest of the town.

As it stands, he said, the Historical Commission is the only regulatory board in town that doesn’t have an appeals process. Since the demolition delay has been put in place, not a single structure has been preserved, which has had a delay placed on it.

He said the selectmen recommended indefinite postponement to take the next few months to review the 14-year-old bylaw itself, the composition of the board, the role of the Historical Commission and come up with a compromise that serves the best interest of the town.

Town Meeting member Deborah Boggs said she agrees the bylaw needs to be revised, but she doesn’t believe the selectmen should be the appeals board. She said that would make a mockery of and renders the Historical Commission useless by taking away all their power.

She said developers will simply go through the motions with the Historical Commission, knowing that the real decision lies with the selectmen.

Although the demolition delay has never stopped anyone from tearing down a building, Boggs said maybe having it on the books has been enough of a disincentive for developers to rethink their plans and how they want to proceed on a project.


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