A number of North Shore towns are springing forward with increased regulations on gas-powered leaf blowers.
The recent government action stems from the takeaways reported by the Regional Leaf Blower Working Group in December 2022 after more than a year’s worth of analysis and research.
A dozen municipalities participated in the working group, as did a regional landscaping association and two large landscaping firms. Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe and Highland Park — all of which already have leaf-blower ordinances — were all involved and, hoping to create standardized regulations up and down the shore, are in the process of expanding their bans on gas-powered leaf-blowers to nine months.
The group recommends that gas-powered leaf blowers would be allowed in April, October and November, while other exceptions, such as golf course and park district properties, are being considered independently by each municipality.
The pending nine-month bans, paired with Evanston’s current year-round ban, could mean beginning in 2024 a vast majority of the year will be free from the noise and air pollution of gas-powered leaf blowers for a 20-mile stretch of lakeshore suburbs: Evanston through Highland Park, plus inland communities Northbrook and Deerfield. The Village of Northfield remains the area outlier without any ordinance specific to leaf blowers, turning down an opportunity to adopt one in 2021.
The Village of Glencoe has been at the forefront of the conversation in recent years, and Village Manager Phil Kiraly was one of three co-leads, along with Highland Park’s Ghida Neukirch and Wilmette’s Mike Brainman, of the task force.
The Glencoe Village Board signaled its support for a nine-month ban during a March Committee of the Whole meeting, according to the Chicago Tribune. The measure will be on the board’s meeting agenda for April 20, Kiraly said.
Wilmette and Winnetka trustees discussed extended leaf-blower bans during their respective meetings on Tuesday, April 11.
In a regular meeting, the Wilmette Village Board heard details of the ban while trustees questioned if regulations could go even further.
The new policy, which is set to be up for adoption at the board’s next meeting on April 25, also limits lawncare to weekdays between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. and would kick in at the start of 2024.
“This would allow time for our landscapers to purchase whatever additional equipment they may need to implement this change,” he said.
In addition to the changes, the proposed policy also retains the same exemptions that exist under the current policy. This includes property maintained by the Wilmette Park District, public and private golf courses, in addition to uses for gutter and downspout cleaning and for preparing asphalt during seal coating and road work.
Braiman noted that the Wilmette Park District will eventually be phasing out their own gas leaf blowers.
“I think it’s important to note that the Wilmette Park District is in the process of transitioning away from gasoline-powered leaf blowers to electric equipment, and they’re excited about that,” Braiman said.
Trustee Dan Sullivan disagreed with allowing the park district to continue using gas-powered leaf blowers, suggesting a delay in the ordinance’s effective date until Jan. 1, 2025 to allow the park district more time to update their equipment — a suggestion supported by Trustee Kathy Dodd.
Braiman said the park district is exempt is because they have large areas of space to maintain, and many of those areas are open spaces, which he said mitigates the noise, the primary cause of complaints.
He also said adopting the ordinance in 2025 would be inconsistent with the other communities in the working group, but Braiman said he would speak with the park district to get a better understanding of their plans to switch to electric.
Trustee Peter Barrow also questioned why private golf courses were exempt from the new ordinance.
Barrow suggested that private courses could rely on their members to pay for equipment upgrades.
“I don’t entirely follow why the residents of Wilmette should be bearing the ecological costs of a private golf course,” he said. “Seems to me that those members ought to be paying for that. It’s part of the air that we breathe.”
Braiman said most surrounding communities make an exemption for golf courses, including Evanston, because of the large, open spaces golf courses must maintain and the limited capacity of an electric leaf blower.
“If we want to contemplate that, I think it requires more study and more discussions with the golf courses, with our consultants, on what their options are, and that’s something we can certainly report back on,” he said. “But I think it needs more thought and more time than we can do in two weeks.”
Winnetka trustees had a similar discussion April 11 — expressing support for a nine-month ban while suggesting fewer exemptions — during a special study session.
Former Winnetka Trustee King Poor, who has spearheaded Winnetka’s participation in the working group, was on hand to provide insight on the extended ban.
“It was really great collaboration and this is real progress,” Poor told the trustees.
The Winnetka councilmembers directed Village staff to construct an ordinance that lays out a nine-month ban on gas-powered leaf blowers with zero exceptions; though, the Village plans to discuss the measure with officials from the Winnetka Park District and Winnetka Golf Club, which is now overseen by KemperSports.
The ordinance will be in front of the Village Council at a future meeting.
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