A public hearing on Pleasantville’s proposed legislation to ban single-use plastic bags suddenly became contentious Monday night when the Key Food Marketplace owner threatened to short-circuit a planned expansion if the law was approved.
Throughout the nearly three-hour hearing on Jan. 22, speakers in the standing-room-only crowd at Village Hall expressed their support for the initiative and encouraged the use of reusable bags explaining how it would better served the environment.
But the mood turned when Key Food owner Richard Grobman criticized aspects of the proposed law. Grobman agreed the ordinance would provide a clean environment, but stressed the law would hurt his business on Pleasantville Road.
The new legislation, recommended by the volunteer organization PleasantvilleRecycles, would call for certain stores, such as groceries, food markets, pharmacies and convenience stores to charge customers a five-cent fee for each paper bag used to carry out merchandise. The carry-out bag cost will increase to 10 cents after one year.
Grobman said he is in favor of controlling the use of paper and plastic, but the village would have his support if the ordinance was a county-wide law that would “level the playing field.” He suggested the village-centric law would entice customers to shop elsewhere if they have a choice to avoid restrictions or fees.
“They can go to other stores where they don’t have to pay a nickel for paper, they can get plastic bags. That will hurt my business. I am telling you it will hurt my business,” Grobman said.
“I have to compete with other stores. I know the business, if this were a positive for me why wouldn’t I support it? I believe I know the supermarket business better than anyone in this room.”
He added that PleasantvilleRecycles didn’t try to meet with him before presenting their ideas to the board. Grobman said Key Food is the most important business in the village and greater efforts should have been made to reach out to him.
Members of the organization said early in the hearing that they met with every business within the village while conducting their research.
Grobman added how he’s in the process of remodeling his store and would “seriously consider” pulling back if the law passes.
“My intention again is to put millions of dollars into the store, and I don’t mean this to be a threat, but it’s a reality of business,” he said. “It will hurt our business and it’s difficult to make the decisions.”
Trustee Joseph Stargiotti encouraged Grobman to rethink his comment, explaining how the village intends on redeveloping the space located next to his establishment with residential units.
He said Pleasantville is forward-thinking and wants a store that shares their values, before suggesting Grobman is missing an opportunity to benefit from the proposed law.
Grobman said if that was true the village wouldn’t have to enact a law banning plastic bags, and bottled water wouldn’t be one of his top sellers.
He then said he would support a law that placed a fee on both paper and plastic bags because it would provide customers with a choice while allowing his business to profit.
Trustee Nicole Asquith remarked that residents won’t have a problem with the proposed law, but instead voiced displeasure with the store’s cleanliness, sanitation and produce department. Several residents also took aim at Grobman and his store during the hearing.
“People don’t want the plastic,” Trustee Colleen Griffin-Wagner said. “I think there’s an environmental piece, there’s an aesthetic piece that the community is talking about, and I don’t know if you’re hearing that, and while it’s five cents, if your concern is that people are going to go elsewhere put something in your store that makes them not. It’s not just going to be about bags.”
Stargiotti said municipalities throughout the county are passing laws restricting the use of plastic bags. Mount Pleasant will eventually propose a similar law if the village passes the ordinance.
Former village trustee Mindy Berard agreed the ordinance would pose a threat to local businesses, stating that the law is “heavy-handed.” She questioned trustees on the data they used to determine the positive effects the law would have on the village. She was then told to find another forum to express her concerns and questions.
“The important takeaway we’re really looking at is informing our future, and what that means is we’re here to provide a greater world and a life for our children and future generations,” said Edwin Kuo, co-chair of PleasantvilleRecycles.
Steve Wolk, chairman of New Castle’s Sustainability Advisory Board, said that DeCicco & Sons in Millwood saves 12,000 plastic bags a week. New Castle’s law went into effect last year.
He said DeCicco moved in after New Castle adopted its plastic bag ban and the store embraced what shoppers wanted. He said the busy parking lot is the only challenge for customers.
John Grant, a member of the Croton Climate Initiative, said his organization is working on a similar law for the Village of Croton-on-Hudson.
Steven Kavee, Chairman of Mount Pleasant’s Conservation Advisory Council, commended the village for pursuing the ban because it’s a critical step forward for sustainable causes.
“When the Village of Pleasantville passes a law like this and neighboring municipalities pass these laws, it becomes a tipping point that everybody starts to understand,” Kavee said. “These are possibilities and the entire county can turn and can become a county-wide system by which this ridiculous use of plastic bags is a thing of the past.”