Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

December 2, 2012

City residents abuzz over proposal to allow hives

Commissioners to consider amending zoning rules

TRAVERSE CITY — Residents clucked long and hard when city commissioners decided to allow chickens into neighborhoods, but a similar proposal to allow honey bees generated the same buzz.

City commissioners will consider amending zoning rules to allow residents to house up to two bee colonies or hives, per-property when they meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.

Only one city resident opposed the ordinance during the planning commission's review of the bee law, said city planner Russ Soyring. Then again, just one resident, Kima Kraimer, said she wants to raise bees.

"We received so little in comment, less than I would expect," Soyring said. "The chickens generated a lot more response."

Severe reactions to bee, hornet, and wasp stings kill about 40 people each year in the United States. A typical bee hive houses 50,000 to 60,000 bees.

Local resident Mary Taylor said she is allergic to bee stings and sent a letter to city officials that raised her opposition.

"I agree honey bees are the nicest bees, but a sting from one can still kill me," Taylor wrote to the planning commission.

A bee hive's potential affect on neighbors weighed heavily on the planning commission, Soyring said. But officials researched other communities and couldn't find problems in those that mix human and bee populations.

City officials also contacted two local allergists. Both said they could not find any medical research that indicated the presence of hives increased the number of stings in a city.

Traverse City adopted many of the same safeguards recommended by the Michigan Beekeepers Association, including notifying and educating neighbors, a 25-foot setback from neighboring homes, and barriers that bees have to fly over.

Flight barriers prevent inadvertent collisions with people from the low, narrow glide path bees like to take, said Terry Toland, association president. Once a bee goes vertical to clear the barrier, it won't take a lower route except to feed.

Honey bees tend to avoid humans because they are too busy working to find food, but flowery perfumes, lavender scents, and some sweet drinks can gain their brief attention. Unlike wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and bumble bees, a honey bee prefers to avoid conflict because it can sting only once, then dies.

Even an abandoned hive won't impact neighbors, Toland said. An urban hive will either thrive and possibly divide or bees become diseased and die, similar to what occurs naturally in the wild.

Bee proponent Kraimer also is allergic to bee stings, but keeps hives in Benzie County and would like to bring two into her yard in Slabtown on the city's west side.

"I've been stung tending to the hives, but usually they just land on me," she said. "Honey bees are extremely docile, they are not hostile, they are not interested in humans."

Kraimer contends beekeeping shouldn't be an issue because cities all over the world allow the practice.

"There is magic that is happening in that hive, and people who work it know," Kraimer said.

City Commissioner Jim Carruthers expects honey bee hobbyists to go the way of the city chicken farmers.

"We had this huge uproar about chickens, but since we passed the ordinance I haven't heard one peep," he said.

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