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Pleasantville Renews Contentious Gas Leaf Blower Ban Discussion

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Pleasantville residents and several landscaping company owners filled the Village Hall meeting room last week to debate a proposed spring-to-early fall ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, the latest municipality to consider such a measure.

The May 9 public hearing on whether to impose the seasonal prohibition, which would extend from May 15 to Oct. 1, featured speakers who argued it would infringe on property owners’ rights while those in favor cited health and environmental benefits.

“One of the biggest investments that a homeowner can make is in their property,” said Mark DeFabio, owner of M.G.’s Lawn Green and a 34-year Pleasantville resident. “If a homeowner chooses to keep their property a certain way, who are we to say they shouldn’t keep it a certain way. A good, landscaped, well-maintained property is worth about 15 percent of the property value.”

Mayor Peter Scherer disagreed with DeFabio’s take about infringement on property rights.

“We’re not trying to hem in your personal rights up to the point in which they conflict with other people’s rights, and that’s why we are here now,” he said.

The law would allow the gas-powered machines during the fall leaf season and through winter and into early spring to permit residents to more easily clean their properties. Many other communities in Westchester have adopted some leaf blower restrictions in recent years, including New Castle and Mount Kisco.

Previously, village officials have expressed hope of eventually banning the gas-powered machines year-round, although New York State may soon address that issue.

Other landscaping company owners claimed that if the currently proposed law went into effect, they would be forced to use electric leaf blowers, which would put them out of business. It was argued that since electric blowers are less powerful the job at each property would take longer. They would also have to be charged frequently.

Resident John Mueller spoke on behalf of his landscaper and friend, Tony Sanchez, who joined him at the meeting. Mueller said landscapers like Sanchez generally employ five people using gas-powered leaf blowers.

“These are people who don’t have a lot of money and may not be able to feed their families,” he said. “I’m asking you to put this off until the electric leaf blower technology can compete with the gas power leaf blowers.”

A highly controversial portion of the proposed ordinance would temporarily exempt the Pleasantville School District and the Pleasantville Country Club from using electric leaf blowers. The ban would not exempt residents living at the country club, however.

Village Trustee Nicole Asquith said the owners of the country club indicated they weren’t ready to transition to electric-powered landscaping equipment, triggering accusations of discrimination against homeowners.

“The country club is a private, for-profit organization,” said village resident Tom Rooney. “It’s not my problem if the golf course can’t use electric equipment, so maybe it shouldn’t be used at all.”

Asquith, who introduced the proposed law, summarized how the village arrived at the proposed ordinance.

“There’s been conversations around leaf blowers for many years, but we started hearing a lot more complaints after the (COVID-19) shutdown when more people were working from home,” she said.

Asquith referred to last year’s presentation by the Pleasantville Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) that focused on adverse environmental impacts of noise and air pollution caused by gas-powered blowers. She also reminded residents of a June 2021 survey with more than 600 respondents, which showed that 158 village residents owned electric leaf blowers and 123 had gas-powered mowers.

Resident Sophie Worley, a supporter of the law, said her two children are on the autism spectrum and had difficulty processing in the presence of loud sounds.

“During the pandemic, when my children were home and everyone was using their leaf blowers, it was really hard for them,” Worley said.

CAC Chair Helen Meurer, along with other council members, supported the ban. They said natural gardening techniques such as using rakes and mulching leaves are an alternative to blowing leaves.

Scherer said e-mails were received from residents who are cancer survivors or who had other health issues whose peace and quiet at home has been disturbed by the noise from gas-powered blowers.

“Their capacity to recover in their own home has been badly, badly harmed,” Scherer said. “We’re trying to craft something that lets everybody live. To say no one is being hurt by this is not true.”

Trustee Paul Alvarez said the village has also received hundreds of e-mails about the proposed leaf blower ban and many complained of the loud noise from gas-powered leaf blowers.

“They have written how they are just trying to sit in their house and watch TV and they can’t or they have to close the windows because of the smell of the smoke and the gas,” he said.

However, Marilyn Lamb spoke of her father’s landscaping business and urged the board to reconsider the ordinance.

“My dad is still running his business, it’s just him, my brother and one other guy,” Lamb said. “If they had to use an electric blower and a rake, they would never be able to make a living.”

If the ban becomes law, Asquith said the implementation of it would be a soft landing.

“We’re not going to expect everyone to turn on a dime,” she said. “We’d have to discuss if there will be a grace period.

The hearing was adjourned and is expected to continue at the Village Board’s next meeting on May 23.

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