Greenwich Adopts Fresh Leaf Blower Rules After Extended Debate

Greenwich Town Hall (CT Examiner)

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GREENWICH — Following hours of extensive debate over gas-powered leaf blowers on Tuesday, none of the noise ordinances offered by environmental activists, landscapers or the town were adopted by the Representative Town Meeting as originally proposed. Instead, the legislative body passed a new town law which incorporates elements of all three proposals.

The separate noise ordinances included one by the resident group Quiet Yards Greenwich, which proposed banning gas blower use in residential zones from Memorial Day weekend to Sept. 30. Another proposal by Greenwich landscapers would allow the use of only one gas or electric leaf blower at a time in both residential and commercial zones from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, rather than an outright ban. The final proposal by the town aimed to reinstate the longstanding local noise ordinance that had been repealed by the Board of Health in December without any new gas blower restrictions. 

RTM members voted to reinstate the former noise ordinance and ban the use of gas blowers in residential zones from Memorial Day to Sept. 30 as requested by Quiet Yards Greenwich. But for properties that are 2 acres or larger, the prohibition period will end on Labor Day, as suggested by landscapers.

Quiet Yards Greenwich co-founder Elizabeth Dempsey told CT Examiner on Wednesday that the new law still accomplishes the group’s key goal — to minimize the effects of gas blower use on human and environmental health.

“At last, instead of listening to ear piercing noise and inhaling toxic fumes, for a few months out of the year residents can enjoy some fresh air and the sounds of nature in their own backyards,” Dempsey said.

For more than 30 years, Dempsey said grassroot groups have lobbied the town for change to its noise regulations, arguing that potential hearing loss and harmful fumes from gas blowers are reason enough to demand a switch to electric. Since Quiet Yards Greenwich formed in 2021, the group has surveyed residents on potential new laws, gathered petition signatures and partnered with groups like the Greenwich Audubon Center and Greenwich Land Trust.

But before the group took its ordinance to the RTM on Tuesday, the proposal was rejected by the Board of Health twice after receiving opposition from local landscapers.

At a May health board meeting, Quiet Yards Greenwich argued that officials should join the 23 nearby towns that have restricted or banned gas blowers and allow residents some reprieve in the summer. The board rejected the proposal a month later, citing concerns about increased costs from local landscaping businesses and doubts about whether a temporary annual ban could improve environmental impacts.

The health board considered the proposal again on Dec. 7. Rather than simply rejecting the ban again, the board also repealed Greenwich’s 40-year noise ordinance, saying they wanted to allow the RTM to create its own ordinance from scratch. 

But at the Tuesday meeting, RTM members said the health board’s decision only complicated the process and forced their hand. 

By leaving the town without a noise law, Greenwich had little defense against excessive noise at odd hours. While many members said they’d rather take time to carefully craft gas blower regulations in a subcommittee, others urged immediate action.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Margarita Alban said without a noise ordinance, Greenwich had no restrictions on the days or hours of construction and no set garbage pickup hours. Ever since the health board’s decision, she said developers have been seen working on Sunday mornings.

“Absent a noise ordinance now, you will be exposed to construction noise on an ongoing basis,” Alban said. “I’m asking you not to refer this to a special committee and to pass and reinstate item 17 — the noise ordinance as it was originally.”

Ahead of the meeting, more than 100 residents sent letters to the body asking them to make a decision. RTM member Lindy Lilien said they should not delay any longer.

“We can do it tonight. Will we be tired and annoyed? Absolutely,” she said. “But we can do this. We can make something good happen tonight for our constituents.”

While Quiet Yards Greenwich considers the new ordinance a win, some RTM members argued it does not take many of the arguments made by landscapers into consideration.

Before the RTM vote on Tuesday, a local landscaping business owner and proponent of Greenwich Landscape Professional’s ordinance, Roberto Fernandez, outlined several problems with a forced summertime switch to electric blowers.

Quiet Yards Greenwich stated in their presentations that investing in electric blowers would save landscapers money over time. But Fernandez told CT Examiner that a ban on gas blowers would be costly, time-consuming and confusing for all local landscaping companies.

“It’s going to put a hit on our industry because it’s a very big expense to move from gas to electric so fast for all-sized properties,” Fernandez said. “I have 42 employees, I have 12 crews. I would need an estimate of 18 electric blowers with 216 batteries and 90 chargers, for a cost of almost $142,000.”

Fernandez said he understands many are frustrated with loud noise emitted from gas blowers, but noted that electric technology is not reliable enough to warrant a significant investment. The batteries die quickly and the equipment is difficult to service and insure, he said.

After learning about the Quiet Yards Greenwich’s proposed gas blower ban, Fernandez said he contacted other landscapers and gathered almost 90 signatures in support of their own regulations.

Per their draft, the landscapers were willing to limit summertime use — which typically includes blowing grass clippings off of driveways, patios and tennis courts — to one leaf blower per property so long as the ban ends on Labor Day, instead of Sept. 30 as proposed by the resident group.

“If they take September away from us, we won’t be able to perform the job that we’d like to perform in the fall for seeding and aeration,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez and Dempsey said their groups had met to discuss the proposals ahead of the RTM meeting, and made changes to their drafts in an attempt to meet in the middle. Still, both advocates rejected the other’s proposal.

Like some RTM members, Fernandez said he hoped officials would delay the vote and instead send the proposals to a subcommittee for further discussion. But Dempsey argued that residents needed reprieve and that the landscaper’s ordinance did not fix the issue.

“The number of people writing to the RTM asking them for relief from [gas blowers] has been unprecedented. Of the 128 letters received, 89 percent are in favor of a summer moratorium,” Dempsey said. “This proposal from landscapers will not satisfy that demand.”

Fernandez did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday about the new summertime ban, which includes penalties for violations beginning in 2025.