By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

A landscape company is challenging Montclair’s new gas leaf blower ordinance in court.

The company that sued the township when Montclair first began limiting gas powered leaf blowers in 1995 will head back to court on June 25 to contest a recent change to law, which reduces the number of days gas blowers are allowed each year from 168 to 93, claiming it goes against a settlement reached in 2000. 

Montclair first restricted what times of year gas powered leaf blowers could be used in 1995,  but Dente Landscaping and 50 other “John Does” soon after filed a suit, challenging the ordinance. In 2000, the landscapers and township reached a settlement that still limited what times of year gas-powered blowers could be used, but allowed a broader date range than the township first set — March 1 to June 10 and Oct. 1 to Dec. 15 — and the landscapers agreed to dismiss the suit. 

In February, the Township Council voted 5-2 to restrict those dates to March 15 through May 15, and Oct. 15 through Dec. 15. Starting times are now an hour later as well — 9 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends. 

In February, Michael D. Byrne of Pilgrim Pruning told the council that the settlement prohibited the township from further restrictions on leaf blowers. But Township Attorney Ira Karasick rejected that assertion, saying courts couldn’t keep legislative bodies from making new laws. 

On March 15, Dente’s attorney, David J. Mairo, sent Karasick a letter stating that the “parties agreed not to change the hours of operation. … In light of the stipulation of settlement, Dente Landscaping and New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association demand that the Township immediately repeal the ordinance ... and dismiss any summonses issued for purported violations of the same.” 

Mairo stated that if the township failed to repeal the ordinance, Dente would file a motion in court.

On June 9, Vito Dente and Dente Landscaping filed a civil action with Essex County Superior Court known as a motion in aid of litigants’ rights — asking the court to enforce the terms of the settlement. 

“Ordinance’s narrower restrictions on the use of internal combustion leaf blowers shaves roughly one-and-a-half months off of the permissive use periods that defendant agreed to in the settlement agreement,” the motion reads.   

Karasick rebuts that in a brief, telling the court the settlement was “silent about the duration of the modified regulations or of the township’s right to amend those dates and times in the future.”

And he says in the brief the court should deny the motion because “the prior settlement cannot limit the exercise of police power by Montclair’s current governing body.” 

Karasick also states that the Township Council should not be “forever barred” from taking a view of the impact of gas blowers on public health and safety that’s different from the one in 2000.

The motion will be heard on June 25, when Dente will ask a superior court judge to prohibit Montclair from enforcing the updated ordinance. Dente is also asking that the judge require the township to dismiss any summonses currently pending for alleged violations.

The township, as of June 10, had issued nine summonses to eight different landscaping companies charging violations of the partial-year gas leaf blower ban. Those summonses were expected to result in court dates. In addition, the township issued five warnings to landscapers for allegedly using gas blowers since the ban went into effect. 

The complaint also asks for counsel fees.