River Forest officials will address complaints from residents about noisy landscaping equipment with an awareness and education campaign.

An extensive discussion at the Nov. 30 virtual village board meeting was sparked by complaints from residents to village staff and elected officials as well as posts on social media in October and November targeting noisy landscaping equipment, especially gas-powered leaf blowers.

Village Administrator Eric Palm speculated that such complaints were more numerous this fall because many people are working from home and children are remote-learning from home. An unseasonably warm spell in early November also might have led to more people opening their windows.

Officials appeared to be against an outright ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, but they acknowledged that electric-powered leaf blowers are quieter and more environmentally friendly. 

However, battery-powered leaf blowers need to be recharged frequently and residents are likely to oppose allowing landscapers to plug their electric-powered leaf blowers into their home outlets. 

Trustee Bob O’Connell said he was told by a landscaper doing business in River Forest that manufacturers are trying to lower the decibel levels of their equipment and that his firm replaces equipment every two years.

He also said he was told that raking by hand would be too expensive.

Trustee Tom Cargie expressed concern for older residents if village restrictions led landscapers to use practices that are more labor-intensive and, therefore, more expensive, noting it “might price seniors out.”

Trustee Katie Brennan’s alternative was to have a “neighbor kid” rake leaves by hand for a less expensive hourly rate.

“Most landscapers are small operators,” Palm said, noting the amount of money they make is driven by volume. 

He also said that enforcement of any proposed regulation would “be difficult at best.” Cargie agreed, saying, “The biggest issue is enforcement.”

Brennan called attention to the village’s existing time restrictions on outdoor contractors, including landscapers, and village President Cathy Adduci noted that a code enforcement officer is dispatched when complaints are received.

Village code allows contractors to work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays. It does not allow any work on Sundays and major holidays. Palm said there no decibel limits.

In response to a question from Trustee Erika Bachner, Palm said landscapers are required to pay $125 for a license from the village and renew it annually. 

Trustee Respicio Vazquez suggested tying enforcement to the license, noting that a landscaper’s license could be revoked if the village receives multiple complaints.

Trustee Patty Henek raised the environmental benefits of using electric-powered leaf blowers instead of gas-powered units and expressed concerns with noise pollution. 

She suggested that landscapers who comply be rewarded, perhaps with some type of recognition from the village.

Referring to “living in a glass house,” O’Connell asked whether the village’s public works department uses gas-powered leaf blowers. Palm acknowledged that public works staff members use gas-powered leaf blowers, including when working along forest preserve property on Thatcher Avenue. The River Forest Park District also uses gas-powered leaf blowers.

In reference to O’Connell’s comment about landscapers replacing equipment every two years, Brennan suggested that enforcement of a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers could be delayed for that period of time to allow landscapers to budget for different equipment.

Bachner and Henek supported asking members of the River Forest Sustainability Committee to research alternatives to removing leaves.

“There’s a lot of work here,” Adduci said. “It’s not an easy decision and you can’t just snap your fingers.”

She advocated sending a letter to all licensed landscapers reminding them of the village regulations and encouraging them to do things that are more sustainable and asking the Sustainability Commission to investigate alternatives to removing leaves.

“For sure, we should enforce our laws,” she added.

Palm said he expected the Sustainability Commission to discuss the matter “at an upcoming meeting.”

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