New RTM Flexes Its Muscle: Gets New Noise Ordinance in Place, Including Summer Ban on Gas Leaf Blowers

Tuesday night’s RTM meeting saw a new crew sworn in, and the re-election to a second term for moderator Alexis Voulgaris, who in 2022 became the RTM’s first female moderator. This time she faced no opposition.

Also re-elected to a second term was Moderator Pro Tem Katherine LoBalbo.

Alexis Voulgaris was re-elected for a second term as RTM moderator. Jan 16, 2024

All the new district chairs and committee chairs were introduced, including Dan Quigley as Land Use Committee Chair, Cheryl Moss as Public Works Committee Chair, Greg Zorthian as Finance Committee Chair, and James Waters as Budget Overview Committee Chair.

The 230-member body voted to approve $411,000 for a temporary HVAC replacement at Hamilton Avenue School after a motion to reduce the funding from the requested $3.2 million.

They also approved $110,000 for a centralized kitchen tray line service at the town-owned nursing home The Nathaniel Witherell to replace replace the plating process, reduce food service labor, food and other supply costs, and improve food quality.  Director John Mastronardi said it was anticipated the program would pay for itself in four months.

Noise Ordinance, Summer Gas Leaf Blower Prohibition

The highlight of the five hour meeting was restoring the town’s noise ordinance with an amendment to prohibit gas powered leaf blowers in summer months.

The town’s noise ordinance was repealed in December by the Board of Health.

Item 17 was the town’s 1984 noise ordinance, edited to put it under the purview of the Board of Selectmen rather than the Board of Health.

The health board’s unanimous vote to repeal the longstanding ordinance in December did not sit well with many townspeople and the First Selectman has urged the chair of the health board to resign.

It was the issue of restricting gas powered leaf blowers that had stymied the health board for two years – specifically, whether to embrace Quiet Yards Greenwich’s proposal to restrict their use in summer months.

But the loud, fume-belching machines did play a large part at the RTM meeting, and after much discussion, the 230-member body had the appetite to take a decision.

At the outset, Ms Voulgaris explained that item 18 – a resolution proposed by QYG restricting gas leaf blowers in summer months – and item 19 – a resolution from landscapers restricting both gas and electric leaf blowers in summer months – were not in legal order.

She noted that 17, 18 and 19 were all competing ordinances.

“If we do something with item 17, they are ineligible to come forward because they are stand alone ordinances. They would have to come back as an amendment to an adopted ordinance,” Voulgaris said.

Put different, Voulgaris said it would be possible to consider item 18 or 19 if the RTM voted against item 17.

“The likelihood of that – I could likely catch a unicorn with a net on Sound Beach Avenue before that would happen,” Voulgaris said.

Health and Human Services committee chair Alison Soler explained her committee’s proposed amendment:

“The original proposed ban of gas powered leaf blowers was from May to September. Now, this is from 6pm the Friday before Memorial Day weekend through Sept 30, except for properties with 2+ acres, the ban would end the day after Labor Day. That’s the biggest change….Penalties for violations for this provision would be levied starting in 2025.”

There was also a motion presented by Legislative & Rules committee’s Jane Weisbecker to refer item 17 to a special five-member committee who would return to the RTM in March.

Weisbecker said her L&R committee had had a “lively debate” extending to midnight on the three stand alone ordinances.

“The fact that potentially drafting a unified proposal that took all three into account was difficult – something a committee shouldn’t do in one night,” she said. “There was quite a bit of concern over doing a merger on the fly of these ordinances.”

Weisbecker said the special committee would include 2 members from L&R, 1 from Land Use, 1 from Town Services and 1 from HHS who would consider and propose amendments to the noise ordinance as it relates to leaf blowers – both gasoline and electric powered.

Sophie Koven of QYG urged against forming a special committee, noting the work had been done and dozens of district and committee meetings held.

“This vote comes 30 years after the first effort to pass summertime restrictions and 12 years after the last major effort,” Koven said. “The members might come to agreement quickly. They may not. It may take months or years to make a recommendation.”

She noted there had already been a compromise with landscapers reflected in the start date of the prohibition being adjusted from May 1 to late May.

Jane Brash of QYG noted that Greenwich’s highly lauded resident satisfaction survey results were based on 450 respondents, while the QYG survey had over 700 resident responses. And, of those, 89% said they wanted action taken and 60% said they wanted a ban altogether.

“Over 300 municipalities across the country and 31 towns nearby have summertime or full bans, and yet there are still people who question why this is still necessary, who put the interest of business owners ahead of town residents, who put the interest of business owners ahead of the roughly 15,000 residents who work from home, and medical workers and first responders who need to sleep during the day…”

Jan Sprung urged referring the item to a committee.

“I think there is enough confusion that we cannot make this decision in one night,” she said, adding that landscapers had circulated a list of 780 signatures against the Quiet Yards motion.

Cathy Whitaker said item 17 was confusing and needed further study.

“It is a law that effects a lot of people. It should have consensus on what it’s trying to solve and it should have clear proposals for solutions and it should have community fairness. It has none of those things.”

She suggested the ordinance could put small landscapers out of business.

“Does everyone who says the noise is bad for their grandchildren or business calls know the cost of electric blowers? Do they know the largest users would be exempted?” she asked. “Would they support the ban if it took two times as long to blow with an electric blower? Have they thought about the mining of the rare earth metals needed for electric batteries or the landfill disposal issues for dead batteries?”

Donna Gaudioso-Zeal said approving a special committee would give more opportunity to landscapers to be heard from.

“An ordinance is a law. There is so much confusion on this that we must send it back to committee. This is poor government. We are doing it on the fly,” she said. “We need to get it correct.”

Margarita Alban, chair of Greenwich’s Planning & Zoning commission, urge the RTM not to refer the item to a special committee.

“As you’re heard repeatedly tonight we currently have no noise ordinance. What that means for you as our neighbors is that there is no restriction on the days or hours of construction activity – that’s demolition, excavation, construction. There is also a state law in which we are currently reliant, that is completely silent on garbage pickup hours,” she said.

She noted P&Z focused on construction and permits.

“We are already seeing people working on Sundays, and as the days begin to get longer we expect the evening hours will extend,” she added.

James Waters said the RTM had heard repeatedly that residents wanted the RTM to act.

“Our constituents elected us to act, not to refer,” he said. “While I appreciate the spirit of the motion, an attempt to perfect the ordinance, I urge you to vote against it.”

“A special committee isn’t needed. We already know the key components of a noise ordinance. We already know the modifications proposed by Quiet Yards.”

Waters urged not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good or suffer “paralysis by analysis.”

The L&R motion to refer to a special RTM committee failed (88 yes, 124 no and 1 abstain).

Legislative & Rules motion to refer item 17 to a special RTM committee of five failed to carry in a vote of 88 yes, 124 no and 1 abstention.

Numerous people were each given two minutes to share their thoughts on item 17 and the HHS motion to amend it.

Nelson Munoz, the owner of Chiappetta-Fierro landscapers, said three of his four crews were full-electric.

“We’ve been able to do the job from spring to fall with no problem,” he said. “We had no problem using electric blowers through the summer time….It’s good for savings, and it’s been very healthy for my guys, for me.”

Kristin Schneeman, a Westport RTM member who was the lead sponsor of an ordinance that passed there a year ago to restrict the use of gas leaf blowers from May 15 to October 15, limiting their use to Mon-Fri 8-6:00pm, Saturdays 9-3:00pm and no use on Sundays or holidays.

“In our experience there was a significant level of compliance last year, and life was blessedly quiet for most of the weekends,” she said. “This year between May 15 to Oct 15 the use of gas power leaf blowers will be banned. There is no sunset clause.”

Lastly she said that like Greenwich, Westport had heard from landscapers who run “extremely profitable businesses on all electrical equipment, not just leaf blowers.”

“Please don’t let anyone convince you that the technology is not there yet,” she added.

Brooks Harris advocated a yes vote on the HHS amendment, noting it was the closest alternative to the Quiet Yards resolution.

“We’ve considered this for several months. I think most people in here know how they feel about leaf blowers,” he said. “This is the closest thing – because as the moderator described – we have no path to get to the proposal that QYG has tried to put on the agenda twice.”

Heidi Matonis questioned why the will of a few landscapers should take priority over the will of taxpayers.

“There are 63,000 residents in this town and yet it seems as though we are putting the will of a few over what so many of us want,” she said.

Pat Kearny said the gas powered leaf blowers were akin to killing an ant with a sledgehammer.

“The landscaper industry needs to adjust to this new way of life that has set in over these past few years,” he said.

The motion to amend item 17 passed 135 (yes) to 64 (no) and 6 abstain.

On Wednesday morning, QYG’s Elizabeth Dempsey said in an email, “Greenwich residents can breathe a huge sigh of relief.”

“The 30 year effort for a summer-time restriction on gas leaf blowers, repeatedly thwarted by the Board of Health, was finally approved by the RTM last night in a series of landslide votes.”

“At last, instead of listening to ear piercing noise and inhaling toxic fumes, for a few months out of the year residents can enjoy some fresh air and the sounds of nature in their own backyards.”

“We thank the residents of Greenwich for their constant support and the RTM for reaching across the aisle to improve the quality of life for all in our town,” Dempsey added.

Jan 26 update: People can report violations by calling the non-emergency police number at 203-622-8006.

See also:

Following Health Board’s “Bewildering” Repeal of Noise Ordinance, RTM Postpones Gas-Power Leaf Item Dec 12, 2023

First Selectman Camillo Calls for Board of Health Chair to Step Down Over Noise Ordinance Decision Dec 11, 2023

Greenwich Board of Health Surrenders Local Control to Hartford Dec 7, 2023

Restricting Gas Powered Leaf Blowers? Dozens Testify at RTM in Support of Amended Noise Ordinance Oct 24, 2023

Health Board Rejects Gas Leaf Blower Ordinance; Votes to Create Landscaper Registration System June 27, 2023

Pressure Mounts on Board of Health at Hearing on Expanded Gas-Powered Blower Restrictions May 23, 2023