Winter Park Residents Get Final Vote on City’s Leaf Blower Ban

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The decision to keep or kick Winter Park’s controversial gas-powered leaf blower ban will be up to voters after an ordinance placing a referendum on the March 2025 ballot passed City Commission by a 3-2 vote at its April 24 meeting.

The ban had been unanimously approved by commissioners in January of 2022 with the intent of limiting noise and environmental pollution. It was to take effect in July with penalties commencing on Jan. 1, 2025; however, the option of allowing voters their say was presented to the city in February by Sen. Jason Brodeur as a compromise to his attempt to prevent any new statewide gas-powered leaf blower bans.

Brodeur’s intervention was in response to requests for assistance from Winter Park residents and lawn care business owners, several of whom had already expressed their opinions in emails to the city and during a special City Commission meeting on Feb. 1. Many of the opponents wanted an outright repeal of the ban, which required a motion to draft a new ordinance that Commission did not consider.

Mayor Sheila DeCiccio, who was among the commissioners to pass the ban in 2022, began the April 24 meeting by stating her trepidation over the referendum, saying that she was “worried about the precedent this will set. If anytime someone does not like what the Commission does, they can complain to the senator and threaten preemption.”

The first reading of an ordinance to place a yes/no choice to repeal the ban on the 2025 ballot passed on Feb. 28 with Commissioners Marty Sullivan and Todd Weaver dissenting. Both were also among the commissioners to pass the original ban.

However, at the end of the regular legislative session, Brodeur requested a budget amendment for a study of gas and electric leaf blowers that included language that would prevent the enactment of bans on the gas-powered equipment until July of 2025. A motion to table the second reading in anticipation of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ruling on the legislation was approved by a 3-1 vote on March 13 with Commissioner Kris Cruzada dissenting. The vote was again tabled until after the April 16 runoff election for Commission Seat 2, to allow for a full five-member vote.

Commissioners Sullivan and Weaver reiterated their support of the ban during the April 24 meeting. Sullivan said he did “not see any reason to put that decision at risk to a referendum” while Weaver pointed to a 2011 EPA study on the hazardous emissions from the tools and the dangers they pose to lawn care workers. He also voiced his opposition to Brodeur’s proposal, stating that “preemption of local laws is always something I will push back on.”

Commissioner Kris Cruzada noted updates to emission standards over the past eight years that should also be considered, and spoke in favor of allowing voters to make their own choice. “I defer to the residents of Winter Park as far as having them make the decision as to whether or not this is beneficial to the market and to their pocketbook,” he said, adding that lawncare workers take necessary precautions when using the equipment.

Newly elected Commissioner Craig Russell, who was sworn in before the meeting, drew a parallel between hard feelings over Brodeur’s attempt to preempt the ban and the hard feelings residents have over the ban. “The ironic thing is – it’s like we’re doing that to these small businesses,” he said. “We don’t want ‘Big Brother’ coming down telling us what to do. Residents don’t want this, to me it’s obvious.”

Russell then moved to table the vote in favor of a repeal of the ban. The motion was seconded by Cruzada but failed by a 3-2 vote. Weaver then made a motion to deny the ordinance to place the vote on the ballot, but withdrew after some confusion over procedures. He also noted that those residents and business owners who requested a repeal of the ban did so because they did not believe it would be voted down.

“Would I repeal what we enacted? No, I would not,” Mayor DeCiccio said prior to the final Commission vote. “Would I put it to the voters? I think that’s where we’re probably going to head.” DeCiccio voted with Cruzada and Russell while Sullivan and Weaver dissented. Mayor DeCiccio later clarified her position in a text to the32789.

“I think the people who complained to the senator did not get the outcome they had hoped for as they do not want it on the ballot. Because there are such strong feelings on both sides, it finally came down to the decision that the voters should have the final say.”

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