Savage City Council considering residential beekeeping regulations
The Savage City Council discussed residential #beekeeping at its Monday, Feb. 8 work session. Due to beekeeping’s rise in popularity — in part because of increased publicity about the global decline in the #bee population and the resulting effect on the environment — city staff recommended an ordinance amendment that would set some standards for the practice on residential properties, such as equipment requirements, setbacks from property lines, and colony density limits.
Minnesota cities handle the practice in a variety of ways, and Planning Manager Bryan Tucker said that Eden Prairie passed an ordinance in 2014 that set certain standards, but also required potential beekeepers to apply for a permit and notify neighbors within 200 feet of the property. Savage Mayor Janet Williams said she did not want to make residents have to obtain a permit in order to have bee colonies on their properties. In fact, Williams said she would support removing bees from a city code identifying them as farm animals and allowing residents to have them without regulation.
“I don’t even know why we’re bothering. I would like to have bees in the city if anybody wants them, and I think the easiest way is to remove [bees] from the ordinance and just let [residents] have them,” said Williams. “We just eliminated the overnight parking [ban] year-round because the police department had so much paperwork to do, now we’re going to give them some more paperwork for hardly nothing.”
Council Member Christine Kelly said she would support requiring a permit, because then the city would be able to review plans beforehand. She said she wondered if bee colonies could be considered an “attractive nuisance” from a legal standpoint, much like swimming pools, which are required to be fenced in to prevent neighboring children from getting hurt or drowning.
“The literature indicates that generally speaking, these are non-aggressive types of bees,” Tucker said. “There’s kind of a misconception that they’re aggressive.”
Council Member Jane Victorey and her husband have extensive beekeeping experience, having beehives in Woodbury and Cottage Grove over the years, as well as on their deck, and she said honey bees are unfairly characterized.
“In all the years we had bees — we had about a million with all the hives we had — and most of the time I didn’t wear a suit, and I was only stung twice, and both times it was because I moved into the bee that was sitting there,” Victorey said. “They really are very, very docile.”
Victorey said she and her husband reviewed the issue together, and that one thing they would suggest would be to have a requirement keeping it a certain distance from a playground or a park. She said as long as someone doesn’t attack a bee or its hive, there is not a risk of being stung.
Williams also noted that the chicken coop ordinance they passed in 2014 doesn’t require permit applications, and if bees truly aren’t any more dangerous, than they shouldn’t be treated any differently.
In regards to notification of neighbors, City Administrator Barry Stock he would not be in favor of making that a requirement. He said he was concerned that it would add to the false perception that honey bees are dangerous, and that it would lead residents to believe that their feelings on the matter would play a role in whether someone was allowed to have bees.
“If you notify them, you’re giving them the perception that their voice is going to be heard, [that] if they don’t want it next door, we’re going to deny it,” Stock said. “Based on what? [They] don’t like it? Because [they] don’t understand bees?”
Tucker said they could do something similar to what they did with the chicken coop ordinance, in that there would be certain standards for residential beehives, but that residents wouldn’t have to apply for a permit. Any violations of the conditions outlined in the ordinance amendment would be handled on a complaint basis only.
“[That way] if someone puts one five feet from the property line, we have some kind of recourse,” Tucker said.
The council was generally supportive of that compromise. An ordinance amendment is expected to be presented to the council for consideration at an upcoming meeting.
According to city documents, “In 2000, the most recent year for which data has been reported to the World Health Organization, 54 people were reported to have died in the USA due to encounters with any type of stinging insect (wasps, bees, hornets, yellow jackets, fire ants, brown recluse spiders, etc). None of the deaths can be specifically attributed to honey bees.”
According to the University of Minnesota Bee Lab, “Honey bees are efficient pollinators of garden flowers and eatable fruits and vegetables, as well as being a source of honey. Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) threatens global food production.”
The U of M Bee Lab also states that “Minnesota is among the top five states in honey production and agricultural by-products associated with beekeeping.”