BY TOM MCDERMOTT
For many months, the City Council, residents, landscapers, and, at times, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Kopy, whose police officers will continue to enforce the law, have had a back-and-forth public discussion about leaf blowers. Some proponents of a tougher law wanted to eliminate use of gas-powered machines entirely; others wanted to begin a phase-out by encouraging more use of electric-powered blowers. The Council proposed new licenses for landscapers, which, naturally, the landscapers opposed. There was disagreement over retaining the current exemption for larger properties in the R-1 zone — country clubs, churches, schools, and City properties — or getting rid of it.
A few vocal landscapers argued that the cost of City licenses would be detrimental to their businesses, which are already required to get County permits. They claimed that e-blower technology had not yet caught up to the capabilities of gas-powered machines. The City’s DPW crews supported this view somewhat, with City Engineer Ryan Coyne explaining that during peak cleanup periods in spring and fall, when leaf debris is plentiful and often wet, e-blowers were not yet up to the job. Not everyone agreed, of course, especially residents who constantly reported unlawful use of ear-shattering and pollution-causing leaf blowers near their homes.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Kopy and the RPD stepped up enforcement efforts, drastically increasing the number of Code violation summonses, not only to the operator of the machines, but also to the landscaping companies, and property owners. Proponents of stricter laws applauded this development, while those receiving summonses, who early on had to appear in court, squawked.
Meeting by meeting, the Council tweaked the proposed new law – Chapter 122 “Leaf Blower Regulations”. It all came to a head at the November 30 City Council meeting. Councilmember Bill Henderson, who has spearheaded the process, summed it up best. “This took longer than the Magna Carta.”
The new law includes the following:
- Electric leaf blowers may be used year-round; gas leaf blowers are allowed October 1 to December 15 and March 1 to April 30 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends.
- Use of all motorized equipment is prohibited on 13 holidays.
- After significant storms, DPW may permit expanded use of gas leaf blowers for a period not to exceed 14 days.
- The party operating the banned leaf blower, the party employing the operator, and the owner or resident of the property will be subject to a fine of $250 for the first offense, $350 for the second, and up to $1,500 for the third.
- Landscapers must be licensed by Westchester County.
A number of speakers addressed the Council. Leslie Winters shared her view that leaf blowers would continue to be a nuisance in high-density areas like Grace Church Street, Palisade Road, and Grapal Street. She also complained that on a recent Sunday she reported five gas-operated leaf blowers who probably did not receive summonses.
Landscaper Curtis Spacavento, who has been a vocal opponent of changes to the law, asked the Council to consider extending the use of gas-operated machines beyond December 15. He also informed them that batteries in electric blowers are fire hazards.
John Mayo-Smith bemoaned the fact that some leaf blowers would now be allowed year-round. He told Councilmembers that he did his own yardwork and simply mowed the lawn with the leaves on it with no problem.
Landscaper Katherine Briggs thanked the Council for taking more time to come to a more logical conclusion.
Paul Murphy posited that it would take five electric machines to do the work of one gas machine and noted that the great majority of residents wanted to keep using gas-operated machines but were too busy to attend meetings to voice their opinion.
After discussing the matter for months, the Council did not need much time to take it to a vote. They adopted the new law unanimously, 5-0; Councilmembers Emily Hurd and Carolina Johnson were not in attendance.