City Council’s Human Services Committee appeared reluctant to amend its 2006 beekeeping ordinance at its Oct. 5 meeting. The discussion came in response to a citizen complaint, registered at last month’s meeting, calling for at least a notice provision in the ordinance requiring prospective beekeepers to notify neighbors of their incoming hives.
Willis Silverthorn, the beekeeper whose bees were the source of the September complaint, appeared before the committee to first praise Evanston’s ordinance, then talk about the lack of danger presented by honeybees. “I am very sensitive to those people that are afraid of bee stings…” he said. “We also believe that bees being kept in close proximity to people does not increase the likelihood of bee stings. … Honeybees have gotten a bad rap.”
Honeybees are not aggressive, and nearly every bee sting from a honeybee results from either stepping on a bee with a bare foot or attempting to swat or capture a bee, he and others said.
Further, if a yard does not have high nectar flowers or a water source, then “pollinators” in general will not go into that yard, he said. Pollinators include the more aggressive yellow jackets and other stinging insects, not just docile honeybees.
Responding to a question from Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, Mr. Silverthorn said he has signs on both the front and back gate of his yard indicating the proximity of beehives. Evanston’s ordinance requires such signs.
Ald. Holmes argued for adding a notice provision. “I feel really bad because I thought there really was some sort of notification” provision in the ordinance, she said. She likened the situation to Evanston’s chicken coop ordinance, which requires prospective coop owners to notify neighbors.
But even the notice provision created reluctance. One speaker pointed to Skokie’s ordinance, which requires notification of neighbors. “Not a single person has applied [for a beehive] in Skokie since the ordinance passed in 2003,” she said.
That argument seemed to persuade Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. “I don’t know that we need to improve much on our ordinance.” About half of people allergic to bee sings are not even aware of their allergy, he said. Notice provision can create undo and possibly irrational reactions among neighbors when hives are not the least bit dangerous.
Ald. Holmes continued to argue in favor of a notification provision, saying the City needs to “cover all bases. I just think it’s a good idea to let people know what is coming to your neighborhood, your block.” Any proposed notice would be carefully crafted so as to avoid creating alarm or fear.
At the end of the discussion, the Committee took no action and no references were made. For now, the beekeeping ordinance will remain unchanged.