|This single hive is owned by a Slabtown resident who hopes to be able to move it home.
A proposed ordinance to allow urban beekeeping in Traverse City has city planning commissioners and local residents buzzing. Much of the talk has been negative, laced with fear of stinging and swarms. But The Ticker has learned many of those fears might be unfounded.
Here's the situation: The Traverse City Planning Commission is considering whether to create an ordinance allowing residents to maintain beehives in their backyards. Apiaries have been prohibited in the city since 1966, when bees and other non-domesticated animals were banned to help dispel Traverse City’s rural image and attract more city-oriented tourists.
But the potential benefits hives can provide, as well as an increasing need for – and interest in – honeybees, has generated local demand to overturn the policy.
Kima Kraimer is one downtown resident who would like to see the law changed. She currently maintains hives at an out-of-town location, and has been in frequent contact with city staff and commissioners about allowing beekeeping within city limits. She points to other Michigan cities where urban beekeeping is flourishing, including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing, as well as highly populated U.S. areas like Chicago, New Orleans and New York City that support the activity.
“Hives are already in our backyards downtown – they’re just wild,” Kraimer points out. “This would allow us to cultivate them. And unlike wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, which they’re often confused with, honeybees aren’t aggressive. They have zero interest in humans.”
A fear of bees is a common source of resistance to policies such as the one commissioners are considering. But beekeepers insist the hives are safe and pose no threat to residents or neighbors.
“In most cases, people living in close proximity to beehives will never know the honeybees are around,” concluded Milwaukee city commissioners when creating their city’s urban beekeeping policy.
Dr. James McClellan of Bayside Allergy in Traverse City told planning commissioners he was “not aware of any … studies indicating that the presence of bee hives will increase the likelihood of a bee sting or bee sting reaction.” About 1 in 50 people in the U.S. are allergic to bees – a group that includes Kraimer.
“You just have to understand how honeybees work,” Kraimer says. “Every backyard in Traverse City could have a hive and it wouldn’t be a safety issue.”
The proposed ordinance is one that could have significant implications for the local agricultural community. Nectar gathering by honeybees accounts for 90 percent of the pollination process of all plant life, including orchards, fruits and vegetables, flowers and trees.
Fresh food at local restaurants, farmers markets, vibrant landscapes, permaculture initiatives and urban gardens are features that have come to define the Traverse City region – all of which depend on healthy bee populations. Due to colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon in which honeybee colonies have been disappearing in drastic numbers for unknown reasons, some Traverse City farmers have recently been forced to import bees to help sustain local orchards.
Urban beekeeping could provide one key solution to the shortage.
Planning commissioners are reviewing best practices from other cities to determine what a Traverse City beekeeping ordinance could look like. Most policies have clear guidelines in place determining how many hives may be kept in a given space, where they can be placed (for example, away from sidewalks and neighboring property lines) and requirements for proper hive maintenance.
Most policies also require urban beekeepers to register their hives with the city, be educated on beekeeping practices, and inform their neighbors or post signage about the presence of hives.
Planning commissioners will consider the policy again at their November 6 meeting, where they hope to decide whether to send a proposed ordinance to the city commission for a vote. If approved the city commission would hear the issue on November 19 and most likely take action on December 3.
Interested in learning more about urban beekeeping? Contact BeeDazzled in Benzonia, the Grand Traverse County arm of Michigan State University Extension, or ISLAND (Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design), all of whom offer resources on the subject.