Lawrence residents question brush collection regulations

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The Pine Knoll neighborhood is a beautiful residential area, with large trees that shade the houses from the summer sun – but with that beauty comes consequences.

For Michael Gorski and his neighbors, the consequences are lots of leaves – and what they claim are unreasonable regulations that govern leaf and yard debris collection in Lawrence Township.

Gorski and his neighbors took their complaints – and a request to either change the brush collection regulations or to exempt their neighborhood – to the Lawrence Township Council at its May 7 meeting.

Lawrence Township Council approved the ordinance in September 2018 regarding brush collection.

The regulation sets out the height and length of a leaf pile, as well as the length and diameter of tree limbs that will be collected. It also sets out the schedule for pickup.

The regulation sets the total size of the leaf pile at 12 feet in length and 3 feet in height. Tree limbs cannot exceed 6 inches in diameter and 3 feet in length.

The township is divided into zones for yard debris collection purposes, and leaves and yard debris can only be placed on the curb for collection according to the schedule. It should be put out on the curb on the Saturday or Sunday before the collection week.

But homeowners said it is difficult to comply with the regulations, citing the amount of yard debris for disposal. They also cited the landscapers’ schedules and weather conditions that might hamper the crews’ ability to gather leaves and yard debris to put out on the curb for collection.

Christy Peacock, who lives on Pine Knoll Drive, said she hires a landscaper to clear her yard twice per year. The crew may arrived a few days before her scheduled collection week and put the material out then – not on the Saturday or Sunday before collection.

Gorski, who lives on Pine Knoll Drive, told the council that his lot, which is less than a half-acre, is heavily treed. During the fall, he puts out 20 tarps-full of leaves – but each tarp is the equivalent of one 12-foot section, which is the maximum that can be set out under the regulations.

“A 12-foot section is just unmanageable,” Gorski said. Taking the leaves to the Joseph H. Maher Ecological Center on Princeton Pike – an alternative to setting them out for pickup – is impractical, he said.

Karen Gorski, Michael’s wife, explained that sometimes it rains just before the collection week. If it rains, it makes it more difficult to rake the leaves and put them out for collection.

“It is the specific timing. We cannot conform to the schedule,” she said, citing the unpredictability of the weather.

In response, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski explained that Township Council held three meetings to discuss the brush collection ordinance, which is a revision of a similar ordinance that had been in place for many years.

The decision to revise the ordinance was prompted by discussions with Public Works Director Greg Whitehead, Nerwinski said. Whitehead said it was difficult to keep up with brush collection, and the Public Works crews did not have time for other tasks, he said.

Acknowledging their comments, Nerwinski said it is not easy to craft an ordinance that fits every neighborhood. Every one has individual issues, but it is not possible to carve out one neighborhood because the regulations don’t fit, he said.

“This is not a service that is required by the township, but we want to keep it. We have tried to keep the service for the residents in a reasonable way,” Nerwinski said. Township officials are “trying really hard” to preserve the brush collection program, he said.

Township Councilman Jim Kownacki said the decision to revise the brush collection ordinance was not made overnight. Township Council had to make the best decision that it could at that time, but it is willing to listen and reconsider the issue, he said.

“The point is, if this had happened a few months ago, it would have helped us to understand. We are listening and we are understanding. We are willing to address it further,” Kownacki said.

Nerwinski said the feedback from the residents is important and that while satisfying everyone is impossible, it is certainly possible to figure out a strategy that would work. He said he is open to tweaking the ordinance.