At a Special meeting on Thursday the Greenwich Board of Health voted unanimously to repeal the town’s noise ordinance which falls under their purview.
Board chair Joel Muhlbaum said the special meeting, which was via Zoom, would move along quickly due to people’s schedules during the holiday season.
And it did, lasted about 10 minutes.
The meeting was just in time to create a puzzle for the RTM where the seasonal gas blower ban for residential properties is on the agenda for Monday, Dec 11.
Voting to repeal were Sarah Gamble DO; Danielle Goodwin DDS Lauren O’Keefe, APRN, FNP-BC; Maryann Ramos, MPH, PA-C Emeritus; Sarah Madden; and chair, Joel Muhlbaum, Esq. Anne Fountain was not present.
Health Dept director Caroline Baisley was present.
The short meeting was bizarre, if not unprecedented for a board to forfeit local control to the state of Connecticut, especially after all the recent municipal election campaigning.
In absence of the town ordinance, state law will prevail – Chapter 442 Noise Pollution Control – which is much more generous – you can blow from 7:00am am til 9:00pm “provided the noise discharged from exhausts is adequately muffled to prevent loud and/or explosive noises therefrom.”
On that note, when the Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission approves a zoning application with conditions, they often include considerations of noise such as amplified music. In the absence of a town noise ordinance it seems P&Z would cede local control to the state as well.
Mr. Muhlbaum promised discussion and vote, but there was no discussion. Members had no questions or comments. And since it was not a public hearing, there were no comments from the public either.
Mr. Muhlbaum gave a recent history of the Board of Health response to the Quiet Yard Greenwich proposal to restrict gas powered leaf blowers seasonally and phase them out over time.
He recalled that the board voted down the QYG proposal last June and set course to outline a program instead of a ban to control gas leaf blower noise through re-education on noise regs, licensing and enforcement.
He said his board and especially the subcommittee on gas leaf blowers had spent a lot of time reading, researching and reviewing data from QYG, but had found nothing to explain why there are human health risks to prompt a five-month ban as opposed to the rest of the year.
He said that after reviewing the data the board found “no conclusive well-grounded scientific data providing medical evidence of noise related health risks to the population specifically associated with gas powered leaf blowers alone.”
Muhlbaum said that with a vote to repeal the RTM could proceed to craft its own ordinance.
“If we remove the ordinance from the Board of Health purview, including its future supervision, fine impositions for violations and the granting of variances, it will allow the RTM to avoid conflicts and give the RTM a clear and unemcumbered pathway to crafting its own RTM governed noise ordinance,” Muhlbaum said.
Having both the Greenwich Board of Health and the Dept of Health out of the town’s noise business raises a lot of questions.
There may be a line outside the town Law Department on Friday.
If Noise is in the Board of Health’s purview, can they reverse their decision with a subsequent vote?
Does this vote tie the hands of future boards?
Might a Board of Health comprised of different people in future seek to return Noise to their purview? Might they undo an ordinance crafted by the RTM?
Might the RTM reinstate the repealed ordinance? Would the Board of Health throw the ordinance back again like a football?
Reached by phone after the meeting, RTM moderator Alexis Voulgaris said, “We, the RTM needs to take into consideration what the Board of Health action means for us. The RTM retains the ability to adopt ordinances.”
Recent days saw email flying across town via the all-230 RTM email address, including one the night before the BOH meeting from Aaron Leonard, an RTM member from Riverside, with an interesting suggestion that the RTM consider a Vote of No Confidence in the Board of Health or a SOMR toward that end.
Mr. Leonard wrote that if the Board of Health did vote to repeal, that would be “unbelievably petulant behavior on the part of these town agents.”
“The current proposed amended ordinance may require some tweaks to be improved. However, choosing to blow up the ordinance rather than implement the proposed changes is not what we expect or deserve of our public servants,” Mr. Leonard wrote.
The committees that took up the proposed amendment to the town noise ordinance to limit gas leaf blowers were overall favorable.
Legislative and Rules voted 7-0-3 on the merits. Land Use voted 7-4-0 after voting against an amendment to have the ban go into effect in 2026. The Budget Overview Committee voted 6-5-0, and Health and Human Services voted 8-3-1.
Might these votes signal that the full 230-member body would embrace a seasonal gas leaf blower ban?
With the noise ordinance repealed, the RTM might draft a stand alone leaf blower ordinance.
Or they might move to reinstate the repealed noise ordinance and attach a leaf blower amendment to it.
Perhaps the RTM will push the topic until their January meeting to give everyone time to study at the state law that is now in effect.
Perhaps they will vote to form a committee as was suggested by Ron Bridge in an all-230 member email a few days ago where he wrote that he had spoken with members of QYG, RTM, BOH, homeowners and contractors about the proposed gas power blower proposal.
“I feel that we all agree there is an abuse of this equipment,” he wrote. “I would strongly urge the RTM to push this proposal to a committee comprised of the aforementioned groups to come up with a fair and equitable resolution.
Bear in mind that newly elected members of the RTM will be sworn in at the January 2024 full RTM meeting. The Dec 11 meeting is the last for the current members.
The Resolution to repeal Greenwich’s noise ordinance, Dec 7, 2023
“Whereas the state DEEP commissioner approved Greenwich BOH’s noise ordinance in 1984 in conformity with the state noise control and standards and regulations.
And whereas by inquiry in 1983, the Greenwich Dept of Health was made aware that CT General Statutes allows towns and cities to adopt more stringent noise standards than those adopted by the State DEEP commissioner, provided such standards are approved by the commissioner.
And, Whereas, pursuant to the town charter, the BOH shall have the power to set policy of the Dept of Health, and to make, alter, repeal and enforce ordinances, bylaws and regulations for the numerous purposes set forth therein and has authority as outlined in CT state statutes as it pertains to public health.
And Whereas the Board of Health adopted the town’s noise ordinance from the State DEEP with the intent to allow activities that create noise from various sources in the community to operate within reasonable parameters.
Gas leaf blowers were included in the noise ordinance adopted by the board under the general category of Domestic power tool and equipment.
And, Whereas the noise ordinance was amended in1994 and again in 1996 to specifically address the increase use of gas leaf blowers in the community by restricting hours and days of use.
Gas leaf blowers, which were taken out of the domestic power tool category in the ordinance, was given specific restrictions on its use.
The other equipment within the domestic power tool and construction category uses was already restricted for use in the noise ordinance.
The exemption for gas leaf blower, construction tools and domestic power tools was given approval to operate above the daytime noise decibel limit of 55, as long as they operated within the restricted time frames.
This type of exemption has been adopted by the state noise control regulations of towns and cities of Fairfield County that have noise control ordinances.
Without these tools would never operate as all equipment used in these categories exceed the daytime noise limitations
And Whereas, the Board of Health, through its leaf blower research subcommittee, has reviewed and researched all of the information submitted to the board by QYG. As a result the board found no conclusive well-grounded scientific data providing medical evidence of noise related health risks to the population specifically associated with gas powered leaf blowers alone.
And, therefore, banning gas leaf blowers alone, seasonally or for several months out of the year was rejected.
The board did develop a plan in lieu of the ban on the gas leaf blowers which included an education program about noise ordinance regulations for both landscapers and homeowners of the town. Also a licensing program for landscapers and other yard and tree and construction professionals was introduced as a measure to reduce noise in the community.
Now, Therefore, be it resolved, that over the last six months the board of Health has heard from the community through letters, emails and a public hearing hosted by the board about residents’ quality of life issues associated with gas leaf blowers, with a focus during the summer months when people spend a lot of time outdoors.
In addition at the Oct 23 RTM meeting and more recently discussions at RTM committee meetings of L&R, Land Use and Health & Human Services, town representatives in these committees supported the 5 month ban on gas leaf blowers.
It was stated at L&R that municipalities can choose which entity or department enforces noise regulation.
To be consistent with the 23 towns and cities in Fairfield County that have adopted noise ordinances through common councils, RTMs and other government representative bodies – not boards of health – or rely on using the state noise control ordinance for noise control, the Greenwich Board of Health hereby repeals noise ordinance entitled Chapter 6b Noise within the Town of Greenwich code of ordinances, currently under the purview of the Board of Health in its entirety.
Henceforth the Board of Health and the Dept of Health will no longer be involved in the management of noise activities in the community.
Therefore, be it further resolved that this action taken by the BOH will facilitate a transition for the RTM to design its own noise ordinance and fashion it the way the RTM wishes.
The CT State DEEP noise regulation will serve as regulatory law until such time that the RTM adopts its noise ordinance.”