Buzz about bees: Council approves beekeeping measure

The Stillwater City Council was abuzz about beekeeping Tuesday night.

The council had first reading of an ordinance allowing single-family or two-family homes to have beehives and require hobby beekeepers to hold a city permit.

The measure also requires beekeepers to:

Take a beekeeping course or provide a proof of experience with a letter from a certified beekeeping instructor.

Keep their hives at least 25 feet away from their neighbor’s property line or construct fences or plant shrubs if the hives are closer than 25 feet from their neighbors to ensure sure that bees fly at a safe height and not disturb neighbors.

Ward 4 Councilman Michael Polehna, though he supported the idea, said his issue about the ordinance was enforcing it. Mayor Ken Harycki said he does not expect the city to be overrun with beekeeping permits when the ordinance passes.

“I know that you’re responsible,” said Polehna to the beekeepers in the audience. “But we need to worry about the non-responsible owners.”

“The ordinance you see is written for the safety of the community,” replied beekeeper Elizabeth Welty. “We’re not going about this rashly. We’re following the guidelines set up by the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association that work well in community settings.”

The council added a notification requirement to the ordinance that a beekeeper’s neighbors be told about an application and have 10 days after notification to appeal if neighbors object to the permit. The council also added a clause that 75 percent of the beekeepers neighbor’s within a 150-foot radius must consent to the hive being in the area.

The beekeepers speaking at Tuesdays public hearing said the problem with notification is fear of bees, usually mistaken for wasps, could impede their neighbors’ agreeing to a permit. They might include an education component to counteract this situation.

Bob Sitko, an instructor at Century College and master beekeeper, said talking with neighbors about their hobby is the first thing beekeepers are expected to do to ensure there are no people with allergies to bee stings and inform people about the benefits of having bees in the neighborhood.

“Fear of bees is unfounded,” said beekeeper Marcie Forsberg. “Honeybees are really docile and they bring great benefits to the community. Gardens look fabulous and a lot of people misunderstand how dangerous bees are. If there is a swarm, you can grab the honeybees with your bare hands and not get stung.”

Ward 1 Councilman Doug Menikheim said: “We’ve got nothing to fear but fear itself. This is a national trend for the welfare of society. If there are incidents or problems we can always pull it. It doesn’t lock them in forever but it allows us to move forward. Rather than saying flat out no let’s try it and see what happens.”

The resolution passed 4-1 with Ward 3 Councilman Jim Roush voting no.