By Jeanne Kempthorne, founding member, The Quiet Coalition, and co-chair, Quiet Communities’ Legal Advisory Council, with thanks to Bonnie Sager, co-founder, Huntington CALM
Apr 22, 2017
Municipal officials struggling with complaints about gas-powered leaf blowers and other lawn maintenance equipment may wonder about their authority to protect people from the pollution and noise the equipment emits. The struggle will be particularly thorny if officials face pressure from commercial interests fighting against any equipment ban or regulation. But one thing is clear, there is little doubt that municipalities may regulate the use of power tools pursuant to their so-called police power (i.e., their authority to enact ordinances to promote public health and safety).
Over 20 years ago, a judge in New York squarely faced the issue when a landscaper challenged Scarsdale’s Village Code banning the use of gasoline-powered blowers from June 1 through September 30 of each year. The landscaper contended that the ordinance was arbitrary and not reasonably related to a valid governmental purpose, was overbroad, and unreasonably burdensome to landscaping businesses, and therefore unconstitutional.
The court disagreed, noting that legislative bodies may enact laws intended to promote the general welfare. The seasonal ban, the court found, was not unreasonable and “properly addressed valid government objectives.” The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the ban would result in extreme financial hardship to landscapers, noting that there was both insufficient proof of a significant economic hardship and that such hardship, even if proved, would not render the ordinance unconstitutional.
The Village Board of Trustees, the court noted, had conducted a lengthy investigation and had concluded that the use of grass-mulching mowers would reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, which in turn would reduce water pollution from run-off. The Trustees also expected that there would be less air pollution from blower exhaust and fewer solid waste problems caused by the indiscriminate blowing of debris into sewers and drainage pipes.
The court refused to second-guess the legislative findings because they were not arbitrary or unreasonable. Finally, the court rejected the landscaper’s complaint that the ordinance unfairly singled out leaf blowers among many other types of equipment that cause noise. The legislature has the discretion to do so: “it is not outside the purview of the Trustees to prevent the use of only one piece of . . . noisy equipment while allowing the operation of others. The elimination of the gas blower exclusively ipso facto achieves a reduction in the amount of noise. The code need not cover every contingency nor solve every problem to be constitutional.”
Scarsdale’s website shows that its ordinance banning the use of gas-powered leaf blowers during the summer is still in effect. It provides, “No person, firm, corporation or other entity shall use a gasoline-powered blower in the Village during the period from June 1 through September 30 of each year.” Village Code sec. 205-2(B).