For Larry Wilson, owner of Lawrence Landscape Design in Tuckahoe, New York, community engagement is an important part of speaking up for the industry. Near his business, in the city of Bedford, New York, an incredibly specific proposal was made to restrict equipment use to certain zip codes on specific days of the week.
“I’m not talking just blower use; I’m talking mowers, everything,” Wilson says. “So, if you didn’t finish your work on Tuesday, you’d have to wait a week to go back to that property.” Wilson says his service area has seen its fair share of ordinances and restrictions. Most commonly, he sees chemical restrictions that last through the summer, starting in June and ending in September.
He says he noticed the bans gaining popularity about 20 years ago. Proposals were made to local city councils and governments. “We’ve been dealing with this for a considerable amount of time,” he says. “By the time this gets to legislators, a lot can happen.”
But Wilson is not alone.
Over the last several years, movements on a local and national scale have made it harder for some workers to just do their jobs. Whether it’s a noise restriction, equipment ban or pesticide ban, cases have been popping up across the country, often organized by concerned neighbors.
“It seems to me that (the people who bring these cases to local councils) spend a lot of time in their homes,” says Bob Mann, director of state and local government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. “You either work from home, whether retired or whatever it may be. And they just observe landscapers coming in.”
The NALP tries to keep track of the bans and ordinances as they come in, but Mann says it’s hard to track the smaller local rules. “The software that we use to track legislation doesn’t do a good job of picking these (local ordinances) up,” Mann says. “It’s not the software’s fault; it’s just the way that local governments operate. So, when we do (get word) we try to bring some common sense to the conversation as best we can – get people engaged.”
“They got the children involved, saying it’s not good for asthma. And they had experts writing letters in. So that took away our electric blower use for some time.” Larry Wilson, Lawrence Landscape Design, Tuckahoe, New York
Out in front.
Evan Dackow’s work as president of The Nassau Suffolk Landscape Grounds Association has put him in a position to help remedy the problems these bans and restrictions cause. While his line of work focuses more on chemicals – Dackow is the owner of Jolly Green Tree and Shrub Care – he has several association members who are negatively affected by blower bans and ordinances.
“The effect it’s had on the guys as a whole is pretty tremendous,” he says. And, while several villages on Long Island have passed bans, he says no townships have passed any ordinances that would ban blower use. Dackow credits some of that to the education efforts made by the association.
“We literally hold classes once a year, once every other year, whatever is called for. And we give guys training on how to use the blower effectively and efficiently,” he says. “And that has helped out with the municipalities.”
Dackow says they can even provide photos of the training sessions to city officials, and officials like the results. But, that still doesn’t keep residents from making noise complains.
Looking back at past complaints, Dackow says many of them have stemmed from equipment being used outside the city’s noise ordinance, and aren’t necessarily the fault of the equipment, but the fault of the operator not abiding by the city’s set rules.
“(With those noise complaints,) you have a guy who’s at a house at 8:30 at night or 6:00 in the morning, which really, it’s not the blower that’s the problem.”
In Dackow’s case, he says a lot of the bans and cautionary restriction stem from the land Long Island sits on. The area is on an aquifer, where the cities drinking water is sourced from.
“Long Island is called out on labels,” he says. “One label for the entire country will say ‘no use in Suffolk County.’”
Not only do these bans and restrictions force workers to change their operations, but Mann says they also create a moral issue.
“They want to abide by the rules, but they need to stay in business,” he says. Movements towards alternative fuels and equipment are being made, and Mann says manufacturers are also hearing the needs of landscape professionals.
“Engine manufacturers are developing quieter equipment with low emissions now,” he says. He also suggests that contractors, while this may be stating the obvious, keep up maintenance on their loud equipment. Replacing older blowers when needed will reduce the chances of upsetting the residents.
As for chemicals, bans and regulations are a little more complex. “Everyone wants that green lawn,” Dackow says. “So, we’ve had to get our clients to adjust to our capabilities.”
With more areas restricting certain chemical, LCOs like Dackow have had to explain what is and isn’t possible to their clients. If the one chemical that gets rid of a disease is unavailable in the area, the client will have to accept it. “Some of the material is just not an option where I’m at,” he says.
He’s had to caution his clients about the services he is able to provide and explain to them that there may be one or two clovers that pop up on their lawns. “Even the clients who are purely organic get tired of the results sometimes,” he says.
Wilson says there are about 17 municipalities in his county that have blower ordinances. For a while, contractors were using electric blowers, but even then, residents were concerned about the particles being spread around by them.
“They got the children involved, saying it’s not good for asthma,” Wilson says. “And they had experts writing letters in. So that took away our electric blower use for some time.”
But Dackow says it’s also up to the landscapers and LCOs to be professional when using products and equipment.
“You don’t need two blowers with a 60 by 100 piece of property or 40 by 100 piece of property. You don’t need three backpacks, so a lot of this has to do with respecting your neighbors as well,” Dackow says.
Mann says one reason it’s important for industry professionals to speak up is so that legislators, residents and professionals can find a common ground on these issues. “Landscapers need to get their jobs done,” he says. “But be considerate of neighbors … have an increased awareness that you might be making a lot of noise.”
As far as Wilson and his fight in Bedford, the strict zip code restriction never came to fruition, and Wilson says part of that was due to efforts by the industry to come out and speak up.
“It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill,” he says. “I’m very proud of my associates because they have done an excellent job in fighting these restrictions.”