Talk of Leaf Blower Ban Alarms Trade

Powerful, but loud, leaf blowers have become an essential part of landscapers' equipment. The East Hampton Village Board has talked about limiting them in some way, after years of complaints from residents. Durell Godfrey

Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. and the East Hampton Village Board used their first work session of the new year on Tuesday to discuss two highly impactful issues: regulating the use of leaf blowers and possibly lifting a ban on the playing of live music in village restaurants.

With a roomful of landscapers in attendance, Arthur Graham, a member of the board, jumped into the leaf-blower debate by summing up the machines as “something that drive residents of this village crazy” and calling the controversy “a self-created problem by the landscaping community.” Mr. Graham offered an example of the type of scenario that angers constituents, saying, “Very often a van and trailer roll up on a quarter-acre property [with] a five-man crew. So you might have three blowers going on a quarter-acre property. Very often they will blow the driveway. That creates huge clouds of dust that gets all over everybody’s cars.”

The main concern about leaf blowers, of course, is the noise they create. “Right now, it’s too noisy,” Mr. Graham said. “And there’s a fair amount of sentiment in the village to ban them outright.” He said that he would instead prefer to work with landscapers to find a mutually beneficial way forward, such as encouraging an industry changeover from the use of extremely noisy gas-powered blowers to quieter electric versions, or perhaps limiting the number of leaf blowers used on a property. “I think we need to strike a balance between unfettered leaf-blower operation and a more sane approach,” he said.

Acknowledging the need for landscapers to use leaf blowers — particularly for lawn cleanup in the fall — board members made clear that whatever restrictions they consider would be focused mainly on the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. “We’re not looking to reduce your productivity,” Mr. Graham told those in attendance. “We’re not looking to create roadblocks for you keeping this village as beautiful as it is.”

Although it was a work session and not a public hearing, Mayor Rickenbach opened the discussion so that some of the landscapers in the audience could express their views. 

Donald Mahoney, the president of Mahoney Associates, a landscaping company, took the opportunity to make clear his objection to an outright ban. “I would ask the board to not take any action,” said Mr. Mahoney, suggesting a dialogue between the board and the landscaping community would lead to a more amicable resolution. “If there is an outright ban, then our association would definitely seek litigation, which we obviously don’t want to do.” 

Mr. Mahoney went on to point out the potential ramifications of phasing out the more powerful gas-powered leaf blowers. “Yes,” he said, “we have the electric-battery-powered option. My company has started to go that route. They definitely are quieter; they don’t have the same velocity, which means the jobs would take longer, and there’s a cost to that.” 

Furthermore, Mr. Mahoney wondered aloud, would the landscaping companies be reimbursed for the overhead cost — which he claimed would be “massive” — involved in transitioning from gas-powered to electric-powered leaf blowers? “Are there going to be rebates?” he asked. “Otherwise, it’s going to get passed right on to the taxpayers.”

Mayor Rickenbach welcomed the feedback from landscapers, calling it a good conversation. “We’re here to work with you, folks,” he said, but added that “quite frankly, the handwriting is on the wall.”

Likening the leaf-blower debate to the environmental concerns that led to the institution of the countywide fee on disposable bags on Jan. 1 of this year, Mr. Rickenbach said, “This is a changing psyche. It’s a quality-of-life issue for the residents we represent. And sometimes there have to be adaptations.”

On the subject of lifting the ban on live music in restaurants in the village, the board seemed to be unanimously in favor of it, with one major caveat: There should be no use of amplifiers. 

“I have no problem with a piano player or an acoustic guitar player or a singer,” said Barbara Borsack. “But when you amplify it in a residential neighborhood, then it’s going to affect the residents, and our residents have to take priority.” 

Richard Lawler also brought up the possibility of limiting the time frame in which live music could be played, and he highlighted the need to examine all the repercussions that could follow allowing live music at restaurants. “In addition to possible noise that might be generated, it could attract more customers, which is more traffic, which is more parking issues, all of which is disruptive to the residents that surround these potential venues.” 

  Mayor Rickenbach floated the notion that perhaps the board should limit the number of people that would constitute a musical ensemble — a string quartet might pass muster, but would a six-person band be going too far? 

Although the details of the proposed legislation still need to be worked out, Mayor Rickenbach said, one thing was set in stone: “We all agree that we don’t want to see amplification, period.”