Duluth City Council considers bringing beekeeping aboveboardThere’s a growing buzz about beekeeping in Duluth, and the Duluth City Council may make the community a little more bee-friendly with a new ordinance set to be introduced next Monday.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
There’s a growing buzz about beekeeping in Duluth, and the Duluth City Council may make the community a little more bee-friendly with a new ordinance set to be introduced next Monday.
The ordinance that Councilor Emily Larson plans to present would allow beekeeping in much of the city now technically off-limits for hives. At present, Duluth permits beekeeping only on property zoned “rural-residential” or “rural-conservation.”
“I was shocked to learn I was harboring illegal bees,” said Catherine Winter, a fledgling local apiarist, who was unaware of the city’s restrictive zoning rules when she brought home her first hive this year.
Winter is in good company. A number of beekeepers in Duluth have been quietly operating under the city’s radar in areas where their activities are not allowed, due to the recent enactment of new rules spelled out in the city’s Uniform Development Chapter.
“As an enforcement issue, it’s one that’s completely complaint-driven,” City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said earlier this year, explaining the city’s stance on zoning violations by beekeepers. “If a hive is not causing problems for a neighbor, we generally would not know about it.”
But Ray Lopez, another Duluth beekeeper, said it’s important to make beekeeping clearly legal in more of the city.
“I think we need to get something back on the books, so people don’t need to feel like maybe they’re doing something illegal,” he said.
The issue came to a head earlier this year, when a beekeeper in Gary-New Duluth was nearly forced to give up her hive after a neighbor lodged a complaint with the city. Ultimately, the neighbor’s concerns were allayed, and the beekeeper was able to continue her honey-gathering activities, but the situation left other local apiarists feeling less secure.
Jon Otis said he and other members of the local beekeeping community had been discussing their desire to develop a more progressive city ordinance for months, but the incident in Gary-New Duluth brought a new sense of urgency to the issue.
“We definitely stepped up our timeline,” he said.
When Larson heard of the issue and local efforts to craft new beekeeping guidelines, she said she was pleased to carry those ideas forward in a proposed new ordinance.
“For me, it feels like Duluth continues to move forward on a path toward becoming more sustainable. I think people here are passionate about urban agriculture,” Larson said.
“A lot of people want to eat closer to home when they can afford to. And they like the idea of participating in their food system,” she said.
Larson pointed to the city’s embrace of urban chicken coops in recent years as evidence of that progressive attitude and drive for greater sustainability. She credits local beekeepers for the ideas that went into the new ordinance, drafted with help from the city attorney’s office.
“It was a group effort,” Otis said.
Lopez said local beekeepers drew their ideas largely from a widely admired ordinance recently adopted in Madison. Otis said ordinances in Portland, Ore., Minneapolis, St. Paul and New York City also were influential.
If it passes, the new ordinance would allow people to obtain an annual license to keep bees in Duluth’s residential neighborhoods for a nominal fee. Larson expects it to cost about $10.
The ordinance would limit hives to a maximum of five per residential lot and would require minimum setbacks of 5 feet from property lines, 15 feet from a public walkway and 30 feet from a building on an abutting lot.
New rules also call for the installation of at-least-6-foot-tall flyway barriers to be installed in front of any hive located within 30 feet of a property line.
Winter explained that beekeepers commonly consider creating a flyway barrier a best-practice procedure. The barriers cause bees to fly upward, reducing the chance of contact with people in close proximity to the hive.
“It’s a way of steering the bees where you want them to go,” she said.
Otis said he considers the rules reasonable, and predicted they would not hinder people from getting into beekeeping. To the contrary, he said he expects having clear guidelines will encourage people to consider getting a hive.
“Beekeeping has been exploding,” said Lopez, noting that the Northeastern Minnesota Beekeepers Association has grown from about 20 members three years ago to about 70 today.
Larson said the whole community benefits from having a healthy population of honeybees.
“The idea of backyard beekeeping is not just about honey,” she said. “It’s good for the health of the whole ecosystem.”
Honey bees routinely travel 2½ to 3 miles in search of pollen, Lopez said.
“It’s amazing how far one hive can touch,” he said, describing the positive effects of cross-pollination on plant life, including fruit trees.
As people become more familiar with honeybees, Otis said he’s optimistic they will become less fearful of them. He said some people confuse honeybees with other flying insects, such as hornets and wasps.
“Honeybees were bred to be docile. They’re not aggressive like wasps,” he said, noting that honeybees typically sting only when they fear a hive is in danger. A single sting typically costs a honey bee its life.
Lopez said he has no qualms about his 2-year-old daughter playing around the hives in their backyard.
“I tell her: ‘They’ll leave you alone because you’re not a flower.’”