A Stronger Montclair Leaf Blower Ordinance Passes First Reading, But Questions Raised

Montclair is about to take the next step in its long-conflicted relationship with leaf blowers. Montclair’s Town Council voted 5-2 to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would put greater restrictions on leaf blower usage. The next step is a public hearing and a final vote on the ordinance at the next council meeting on Tuesday, February 16. During the discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting, concerns were raised about the ordinance.

Montclair has had a leaf blower ordinance on the books for years, as Councilor at Large Bob Russo pointed out, but this new version would restrict gas leaf blower usage to two months in the spring and two months in the fall, and also limit hours of use.

Maplewood banned commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers (from May 15 to September 30) in 2017; now that town is considering amending its ban. The New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association and nine individual landscape companies filed a civil suit in October 2017 calling the ban discriminatory.

Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings raised concerns about the Maplewood lawsuit and also stated he had not heard from residents in the Fourth Ward with any leaf blower complaints.

“I’m cautious about the squeaky wheel getting the oil,” said Cummings.

First Ward Councilor Bill Hurlock thought there were some good provisions in the ordinance, but he was also concerned about a possible lawsuit.

“We’ve already spent thousands, if not tens of thousands,” said Hurlock of the lawsuit over rent control. “We have capital expenditures that need to be undertaken to get schools open. I’ve got to be a little more circumspect, a little more careful with money.”

Hurlock also questioned whether the ordinance goes far enough, in terms of the health concerns which were being raised, along with noise issues (like those raised by Quiet Montclair). Hurlock also said the ordinance reference to a 90-day jail time should be dropped, something many residents in public comment also mentioned.

Montclair Town Council.

Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager asked how the new ordinance would be communicated to landscape companies and whether it was the landscape worker or the owner who receives a summons.

Town Manager Timothy Stafford said any landscape companies who come to get permits would be provided the ordinance and the Township could also distribute copies of the new ordinance to existing companies. Town Attorney Ira Karasick said that code enforcement has historically given any summons for violating the ordinance to the company, not the employee.

Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis said he has had some 1300 conversations with people in Montclair and at least 300 of those conversations centered around leaf blowers, with 97% wanting further restrictions. He added that the Maplewood lawsuit stemmed from the Township treating companies differently than individual homeowners, something the new Montclair ordinance does not do.

Councilor at Large Bob Russo reiterated that the ordinance itself is not new.

“It has been in effect for over 25 years, since before I served once as Mayor and was its major advocate then in the mid-1990s. We are simply improving it in response to the many resident complaints and requests for a quieter environment during the pandemic, which has forced so many to work and learn from home.”

And while some residents raised the issue that the current ordinance had not been enforced, Stafford reported that in September 2020, there were 44 separate instances of code enforcement — 24 violations issued and 20 summonses.

Ultimately, the Township Council voted to approve; Hurlock and Cummings were the two no votes.

Read the full text of the ordinance below:

O-21-01 TOWNSHIP OF MONTCLAIR

ORDINANCE AMENDING MONTCLAIR CODE CHAPTER 217 (NOISE), SECTION 6 (INTERNAL COMBUSTION LEAFBLOWERS)
February 2, 2021 (date of introduction)

BE IT ORDAINED, by the Township Council of the Township of Montclair, that Montclair Code Chapter 217, Section 6 is amended as follows:

§ 217-6 Internal combustion leafblowers.

Purpose and intent. The Township of Montclair hereby finds that unlimited use of leafblowers powered by internal combustion engines impairs the economic and social welfare, health, peace and quality of life of persons residing in Montclair. The purpose of this section is to minimize the adverse impact of such equipment by restricting its use within the Township.

Hours of use. Leafblowers powered by internal combustion engines shall not be operated in the Township of Montclair except as follows:

On weekdays between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., except that leafblowers may be used by an occupant or owner of the premises between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays.

On Saturdays between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., except that leafblowers may be used by an occupant or owner of the premises between 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.

On Sundays and the following holidays, between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.: Good Friday and Thanksgiving.

Limitation on use of leafblowers powered by internal combustion engines. The operation of leafblowers powered by internal combustion engines shall be limited in each calendar year to the time period between March 15 and May 15, inclusive, and between October 15 and December 15, inclusive. The Emergency Management Coordinator shall have the authority to extend or modify such dates when extreme or unusual weather conditions warrant.

Mufflers. It shall be a violation hereof to operate any leafblower powered by an internal combustion engine in the Township of Montclair without a properly functioning muffler.

Safety equipment. Business operators shall provide their employees using leafblowers powered by internal combustion engines with appropriate equipment to protect employees’ health, including hearing protection and eye protection. Business operators shall further ensure that employees use appropriate personal protective equipment while operating leafblowers powered by internal combustion engines.

Responsibilities of property owners, business operators, landlords and tenants. Property owners, business operators, landlords and tenants of a property shall each have all the duties and responsibilities prescribed in this chapter, and no property owner, business operator, landlord or tenant shall be relieved from such duties or responsibilities by reason of the fact that the other of them or the occupant is also responsible therefor and in violation thereof.

Emergencies. The Emergency Management Coordinator is authorized to suspend any one or more of the provisions of this section for a period of 24 hours or more whenever such Coordinator determines that an emergency situation exists in the Township. Such suspension may be renewed each day during the continuance of such emergency.

§ 217-7 [no change]

§ 217-8 Violations and penalties.

Any person who violates any provision of this chapter shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding $2,000, imprisonment in the county/municipal jail for a term not exceeding 90 days, or a period of community service not exceeding 90 days, or any combination thereof as determined by the Municipal Court Judge. Each day on which a violation of an ordinance exists shall be considered a separate and distinct violation and shall be subject to imposition of a separate penalty for each day of the violation as the Municipal Court Judge may determine.
Any person who violates any provision of section 217-6 of this chapter shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine of not less than $100.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. One of these days I will explain to the Council the concept of Montclair’s Public Realm. I could do it on the fly, within the 3 minute allotted, but they keep passing off-agenda items. They’re getting slicker, though. They introduced and passed a vaguely written resolution AFTER they came out of Executive Session, and then immediately adjourned. Sweet!

    I like art. I like the idea of art in the public realm. I don’t believe in art for the sake of art. There is good art and bad art, and often one in the same. I certainly don’t like the idea of the business owners (e.g the Business Improvement District) picking what art is appropriate in one of our parks. Another case is I wouldn’t have picked the steel sculpture in Green Garden Park.

    But, most of all, the land use bodies overseeing the Public Realm should try harder to include public input. I’m not sure we will get a say in the water fountain design at the ill-conceived Church Street roundabout. We did’t get a say in Edgemont Park. We didn’t even get a say in the Township Hall building sign or the spectacular generator.

    We just love our Balkanisation of the Public Realm. If it is in your neighborhood, you get to decide. I’m fine with applying this to private property. You don’t want historic designation? You win. But, at what point did we divvy up Montclair’s Public Realm by Councilor(s)?

    Can I pick the art on the Orange Road parking deck?

  2. Found time to actually read the revised ordinance above. The Council needs to either strike the entire problematic paragraph Safety equipment.. or send the ordinance back for further revisions and rehearing.

    The paragraph socially (& legally) distances itself from the Purpose and intent. opening. Furthermore, the Safety equipment. paragraph’s language is inconsistent with the the argument of worker safety as either an equal or secondary objective. The use of shall instead of the legally proper must, the safety equipment use description, and a lack of standards would result in the judge throwing out any safety equipment violation.

    I blame the public experts who, to pressure the Council to pass a simple noise ordinance, risked the timely passage of an ordinance this month. You don’t have an understanding of real-world situations and therefore didn’t realize how you were sinking this ordinance with the research stew of harm you offered.

    It is unfortunate situation. Worker local ordinance protections, tied into residential benefits, are still possible next year. It was not possible with this ordinance. That you couldn’t foresee this should be a lesson learned.

  3. I should also point out that Mayor Spiller and Councilor Russo are union guys. Big-time, all their lives union guys. The landscape workers are not union. The landscape guys we hire are very highly unlikely to be paid a living wage. So who represents them locally? What local protections are we giving them in this ordinance? Or are we just taking care of us, the residents?

    The academic experts have chimed in with the full range of potential harms. They cited studies those using the equipment would be the most directly impacted: to their hearing, to their vision and to the respiratory systems. Some impacts acute & transitory. Other impacts, latent & long term.

    This ordinance uses these cautionary studies to argue for protections of just us, the residents. Not the workers.

    I wouldn’t want to be a union guy voting on this version.

  4. I also share Councilor Cummings concern that the squeaky wheel (the minority) will get the oil (get their way).

    God, I love this town! We are bilingual…we specialize in talking out of both sides of our mouths. And adhering to our highest passive-aggressive standards! Go 4th Ward!