GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
By Michelle Cassell
CHAPEL HILL — A popular neighborhood is taking steps to discourage using gas-powered leaf blowers.
In May, the Southern Village Homeowners Association Board unanimously passed a resolution stating the blowers are a “nuisance and a hazard to the health and wellness of our fellow neighbors.”
The move does not ban blowers outright, and the resolution outlines the goal of eventually eliminating their use by replacing the yard equipment with electric blowers. The resolution also comments on the perceived ineffectiveness of leaf blowing in the development.
“One crew will blow from one yard into another, and another comes along and blows it right back,” in the resolution, it reads, “They also do not eliminate leaves or clippings, they just move them around the neighborhood.”
The HOA hopes the resolution will support property values in the long term by appealing to environmentally conscious buyers working from home who would have more exposure to the blowers than in years past.
“I am very pleased that Southern Village has taken this step and hope that other neighborhoods and organizations will follow their lead,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said.
The Town of Chapel Hill is broadly interested in moving away from gas blowers, but has no authority to mandate the switch to electric. However, on May 10, the council approved using some COVID-19 relief funding to convert all the town’s own landscaping equipment to electric.
The town limits when blowers can be used from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they have a 70-decibel noise limit.
Nationally, California is leading the way in eliminating gas leaf blowers. In 2024, the western state will ban their sale. The state bill enacting the ban included $27 million for small landscaping businesses and sole proprietors to help buy zero-emission equipment like leaf blowers and lawnmowers.
California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Illinois have cities that have also completely banned gas blowers.
According to Backyard Gadget, an internet guide to purchasing and using lawn equipment, Chapel Hill is the only place in North Carolina where gas-powered blowers have restrictions.
Southern Village is one of several communities in our area to hope for the elimination of gas-powered blowers.
The city of Chapel Hill attempted to introduce a ban or restriction of hours the gas blowers could be used as far back as September 2004 by request from Council member Cam Hill.
The Chapel Hill town council members voted unanimously to limit leaf blower use in the evenings in July of 2005 but not to eliminate their use.
Mary Cummings, a Meadowmont resident, presented 125 signatures petitioning the town to ban gas leaf-blowers in May 2021.
She said in the petition that the noise had measured higher than 80 DB inside her house and pointed out this was over the town’s DB limit a thousand times.
The petition was closed after being referred to the town manager, who concluded, “Local governments do not have the statutory authority to impose this kind of ban. The town will continue to look for ways to incentivize adoption and evaluate its use of alternative-power equipment.”
Complaints from Southern Village homeowners have included noise, environmental harm, and inhaling contaminants emitted by the gas blowers.
To establish their claims, the HOA argued the scientific evidence they found to support the validity of the complaints.
Citing the noise emitted by gas-powered leaf blowers, they wrote, “ Even at distances up to 800 feet, the noise is twice the 55-decibel threshold at which sound is considered harmful by the World Health Organization. The low-frequency sounds travel long distances and can penetrate walls.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the machines release pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter which can harm people with respiratory conditions like asthma.
The American Lung Association, the World Health Organization, and the American Heart Association all issued independent reports on the serious cardiovascular, neurological, and respiratory health risks associated with the fine particulates and other pollutants documented to be released in high concentrations. The findings are supported by an EPA National Study on lawn and garden equipment emissions.
The American Cancer Society states that exposure to Benzene is common when working around gasoline and gasoline combustion. The chemical can cause leukemia and other cancers of blood cells.
Other communities in Chapel Hill are interested in moving away from gas blowers as well.
Ebenezer Mayen, of Mayen Landscaping said he received requests from two communities to use battery-powered leaf blowers and trimmers in the past week. In his 20 years of experience, he has had clients make requests when they have breathing problems or sensitivity to noise, but two requests in a week are unusual.
“I do everything I can to accommodate my customers,” Mayen said. Using battery-powered is not a problem when they request it.
However, Mayen said his company currently only has two electric units and the gas machines are more efficient.
“If the area is really big, the battery ones run out of power before I can finish the job,” he said, adding the machines are expensive.
Mayen, who employs ten people, said if he gets a large contract from a new community to use electric machines, he will purchase more battery equipment to accommodate their wishes.
The Southern Village board said by email reply to TLR, they would be willing to pay more to the landscapers to amortize the cost of procuring the electric equipment. Upon request, They will provide a list of environmentally friendly landscapers for homeowners. The board is currently examining legal methods to add the measure to its covenants within a year.
“We want to be sure we are on firm legal footing, have broad buy-in from residents and give landscaping companies ample time to make necessary adjustments,” the board wrote in a statement to TLR.
Michelle Johnson, a property manager for Southern Village developer Millhouse Properties, said the company has not heard about its four other HOA communities in Orange County taking similar steps.