Like its neighbors, the Village of Winnetka is moving forward with an extended ban on gas-powered leaf blowers — with a couple exceptions.
Winnetka trustees approved on Tuesday, June 6, an ordinance detailing a nine-month ban on gas-powered leaf blowers with a temporary exemption — until 2027 — for Skokie Playfield and the Winnetka Golf Club. The Winnetka Park District also receives discretionary use of the machines in May through September with the approval of the village manager.
The expanded ban, slated to go into effect on January 1, 2024, will allow the use of gas-powered leaf blowers during the heavy clean-up months of April, October and November, said Police Chief Brian O’Connell at the meeting.
The ordinance approval comes following a report from the Regional Leaf Blower Working Group, which consists of representatives from several north-suburban communities. Village staff presented the group’s findings during a Village Council Study Session in April.
Former Winnetka Trustee King Poor, who has led Winnetka’s involvement in the working group, emphasized on June 6 the benefits the ban would provide to the community.
“This is an important step in improving public health, enjoyment of property and the environment, and it’s consistent with what the working group spent a year looking at in determining that a nine-month ban was a reasonable compromise,” Poor said. “Landscapers and everyone else who uses lawn equipment will benefit by having a uniform rule.”
Winnetka Park District Executive Director John Peterson and Director of Parks and Maintenance Costa Kutulas explained the park district’s need for potential use in the months of May and September, citing the agency’s vast properties, the unpredictability of weather in those transitional months and their lack of funds for electric leaf blowers on such short notice.
Kutulas said that the park district would not abuse its power to use the machines in Skokie Playfield and at its other properties between May and September just because the privilege is granted.
“It’s as needed. We are very mindful of the intake and what we need to do to work collaboratively in this effort,” Kutulas said. “But we also want to make sure we have the proper tools to do our jobs to our abilities and make sure we’re lessening the noise pollution that you get done in half the time with twice the power.”
Village Council President Chris Rintz was inspired by other communities, such as Glencoe and Wilmette, that allow for exemptions to their leaf-blower ordinances upon the discretionary approval of a council member.
Rintz said that park district administrators are required to contact Rob Bahan, the Winnetka village manager, in order to seek approval for leaf-blower use under specific circumstances in the months of May and September. This discretionary use is set to be revisited in 2027.
“This would at least give us an opportunity to know what conditions are driving the request,” Rintz said. “If it’s reasonable, I think Rob would go ahead and give … the thumbs up.”
The Winnetka Golf Club course, now overseen by KemperSports, is not set to be ready for play until the end of 2024 or early 2025. With the support of Trustee Bob Dearborn, the Village Council granted the company an exemption for until 2027 when the ordinance will be revisited.
Skokie Playfield, which is adjacent to the golf course off Hibbard Road, is 162 acres and features large turf athletic fields and grass baseball and softball diamonds.
Contract for police body cams approved
The Winnetka Village Council also approved the police department’s plan to purchase body cameras from Axon Enterprises in compliance with Illinois’ SAFE-T Act.
The state law passed in 2021 started a timer for all Illinois police departments to install body-worn cameras. Winnetka is among the group with the most leeway (under 50,000 residents) and has until Jan.1, 2025 to begin the program. Larger communities must have a body-cam program sooner.
Winnetka’s police department are following in the lead of Wilmette, Highland Park and Glencoe police departments, which also have contracts with Axon.
O’Connell presented the ordinance in a memo to trustee members and explained that Axon was the best option for body cameras that would seamlessly integrate into WPD’s current evidence-collecting system and collaboration efforts with nearby police departments.
“When one activated Axon camera is within a 100-foot range of another Axon camera, it will automatically trigger the other camera to turn on,” O’Connell wrote. “This feature is especially important during a critical incident when stress levels are high and officers are focused on the event, not their cameras.”
In addition, O’Connell highlighted the fact that Axon is the sole vendor of the WPD’s tasers, and wrote that the “body cameras are programmed with the tasers to automatically engage when a taser is activated. Other body camera systems will not do this.”
The council approved the purchasing of the bundle, including Axon body cameras and new tasers, at a discounted price.
According to the approved ordinance, the cost of the program is $321,372 over five years, or $64,275 per year, to outfit the police department with the body cams.
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Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.