Council sacks plastic bag ban

2 a.m. bar hopes also silenced

By NICOLE YOUNG, Staff Writer
The Capitol, Published November 20, 2007

Paper or plastic remains a valid question in Annapolis after the City Council bagged a bill last night that would have banned the crinkly carryalls from local grocery stores and retailers. And the hopes of some downtown bar owners were dashed when a bill that would have allowed them to stay open past midnight didn't survive the council's last call.

Alderman Sam Shropshire's bill banning the distribution of plastic bags within city limits with fines up to $500 was replaced with a softer, broader bill.

The replacement, introduced by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and co-sponsored by four other aldermen, effectively killed Mr. Shropshire's ban and dashed the hopes of area environmentalists who hoped Annapolis would become the first municipality in the nation to completely ban the bags.

"Bans should always be a last resort, not a first resort," said Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, who co-sponsored the mayor's bill.

Ms. Moyer's bill instead establishes an environmental review committee to encourage the review of residential and business practices and policies. The environmental review committee will be made up of department heads from the Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs, Public Works, Central Services and Recreation and Parks. They will review existing city practices relating to compost, recycling and reusable materials.

"The bag ban would do nothing to reduce our carbon footprint," Ms. Moyer said.

Mr. Shropshire, D-Ward 7, called the revised bill a "cop-out" and vowed to re-group with his environmental team and add amendments to Ms. Moyer's bill, which has a public hearing in December.

About a dozen people spoke on Mr. Shropshire's bill during the public reports portion of council agenda last night, including representatives from Safeway and the Progressive Bag Alliance. They requested the council kill the bag bill.

Mr. Shropshire was visibly shaken by the decision from the council to replace his bill as he went into the hallway of City Hall to discuss the next move with his environmental team.

"The industry-paid purveyors of environmental misery have scored a point," he said. "The new legislation considers some good things, but does not consider the environmental issue for which so many have worked long and hard. This new piece of legislation has no reference to plastic checkout bags and in many instances calls for the city to do what it's already doing."

2 a.m. curfew

A bill introduced earlier this year by Alderwoman Classie G. Hoyle, D-Ward 3, that would have allowed alcohol-serving establishments to remain open until 2 a.m. died last night after aldermen did not pass the bill on second reading.

Mrs. Hoyle attempted to postpone the measure until after the passage of the city's comprehensive plan sometime next year, citing a need for more studies and more research. But after the council split on the postponement of the measure, the bill died on the floor.

She called for more study and more work with the police department on enforcement downtown, saying the upcoming comprehensive plan would be able to provide more information on how to better address the call.

"Nothing stays the same," she said. "We need to look at other factors. We're talking about the entire city of Annapolis and we need to study this more."

Alderman Richard Israel, D-Ward 1, who has been highly vocal against the call to more late-night liquor licenses, called the bill "narrowly focused" and said he favored revisiting the Ward One Sector Study, which 15 years ago established that no more 2 a.m. would be allowed in the Historic District.

The 1993 Ward One Sector Study resolution banned new 2 a.m. licenses in the C2 commercial zone covering Main Street. It was a city decision considered a truce in the so-called "bar wars" that waged for years among downtown residents who still say late bar hours cause rowdiness, broken bottles and smashed flower pots.

But a handful of drinking establishments, including Castlebay and Sly Fox Pub, still cry foul over their midnight closing times. They say being forced to close at midnight while their neighbors stay open until 2 a.m. means the difference between mere survival and prosperity.

Bar owners said approval of the bill would mean all of the restaurants and bars in the city are following the same guidelines and competing on an equal footing.

"There have been no new arguments over 20 years," Mr. Israel said. "This needed to be taken off the table."

(Revised Nov 2007)