Beekeeping in Oak Park is no longer considered a nuisance.
The Oak Park Village Board on Monday voted 6-1 to overturn the decades-long ban on the practice. Trustee Ray Johnson cast the lone "no" vote.
Trustees discussed the issue for nearly 90 minutes after Margaret Provost-Fyfe, public health director at the Oak Park Department of Public Health, showed a video on the importance of bees, then presented the recommendation to remove the restriction. The Board of Health reached that
Beekeepers are required to get a state-issued license, and health department staff will be trained on procedures, said Provost-Fyfe.
Beekeeping enthusiasts also fielded questions from the trustees, many of whom were concerned about protecting people who are severely allergic to bee stings.
Hoping to downplay those fears, Gary Gates, president of the Cook-Dupage Beekeepers Association, said honeybees are much less aggressive than other types of bees. He also said any increase in the number of bees would likely be minor, estimating each hive carries between 25,000 and 50,000 bees.
But the number of bees in Oak Park would "depend on the number of people who take out permits,” he said. Evanston, which allowed beekeeping in 2006, has granted five permits within its population of nearly 78,000, and was used as an example for the Oak Park discussion.
Among the benefits of urban beekeeping, supporters said, is an increase in local pollination, which would make gardens look better and increase yields from fruit trees.
The trustees also discussed flyaway barriers, which are solid walls of vegetation between 4- and 6-feet high. Hives are situated facing the barrier, which forces bees to fly up and not at the level of children or animals, proponents said. Another option would be rooftop hives.
Trustee Adam Salzman was concerned that backyard beekeeping could end up as a property-rights issue.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to seek the permission of neighbors if there’s a likelihood that something could be classified as a nuisance,” he said. Yet village President David Pope said multi-unit buildings could make a permission requirement difficult.
In separate votes, trustees unanimously supported a measure mandating would-be beekeepers to notify their neighbors of their intentions but shot down a proposal requiring residential beekeepers to get their neighbor's permission before beginning the process.
April Morgano, a beekeeper in Joliet, drove 40 miles to attend the board meeting. Morgano runs 2 Let It Bee, the Honey Bee Revitalization Project. She keeps about 14 hives in various Illinois suburbs.
“I think it was a great step forward for Oak Park,” she said. “I’m glad to see they’re going to allow beekeeping, but I’m not too impressed” with all the requirements.
However, Morgano said she was still conflicted because Oak Park has limited space and is densely populated. In the area she keeps bees, the hives are on acres of land, she said.
“I’m still thinking of how this will really work,” she said. “I want to see the bees will be able to thrive.”
Morgano proposed an abandoned parcel of land be donated to the beekeepers. With her organization, she said she hopes to educate those who might be wary of bees or beekeeping.
“I wanted to stress that you need to educate everyone around you about the honeybees, what they do and how important they are to our lives,” she said.
The village's health board will now begin drafting an ordinance, which will also include limiting a property to two colonies and forbidding those in apartments or condos from having hives. The measure will go back to the trustees for final approval at a future meeting.