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Beekeeping: Only for the rich?

Evanston aldermen next week are scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would radically escalate the cost of being a beekeeper in Evanston.

Right now all it costs is the money needed to build a hive and buy the bees. Anybody who already owns a home in town can become a beekeeper.

But under terms of an ordinance the aldermen are scheduled to take a final vote on next week, hives would have to be separated from the nearest lot line by 25 feet. That means beekeepers with smaller lots would have to move to a lot more than 50 feet wide to be legal.

Lots that big in Evanston are scarce and expensive.

Health and Human Services Director Jay Terry, whose department drafted the bee ordinance, said Friday he didn’t have any idea how many Evanstonians had properties big enough for bees under the revised rule.

But a local real estate agent, Anna Renne Ross, checked current listings and found that of the 210 single family detached homes on the market now in Evanston, only 41 — or less than 20 percent — have lots big enough for bees under the proposed ordinance.

And those homes are expensive. The median listing price of the big-enough properties is $1.05 million, compared to a median price of $540,500 for all the single family detached homes sold in Evanston during the past 12 months.

A family would have to have an income of nearly $250,000 a year — more than two-and-a-half times the median Evanston family income — to be able to afford the median property big enough for bees.

Of course the cost would vary considerably depending on how much house you need.

Consider the situation of Susan Dickman and her son Gabriel Jacobs, whose plan for a beehive sparked the current controversy.

Douglas Cannon, the attorney for neighbors opposed to Gabriel’s bees suggested at the last City Council meeting that the solution is for Gabriel and his mother to move to a house with a bigger lot.

So we looked through the current listings for a house about the same size as the one they live in now on a sufficiently bigger lot.

After ruling out one located on busy Crawford Avenue, since it’s not comparable to their current location on a quiet side street, the cheapest we could find has an assessed value 30 percent higher than their existing home, and a listing price of $499,900.

That suggests it would cost about $115,000 plus perhaps $25,000 in transaction costs to switch to a bee-sized lot — quite a premium to pay to pursue a hobby.

The 25-foot rule was suggested by Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste after he failed to win a complete ban on beekeeping at the last Health and Human Services Committee meeting.

Until then the draft ordinance had called for a 15-foot separation from the nearest lot line. That rule would ban bees from a significant number of Evanston homes on 25 or 30 foot lots — but still would permit beekeeping by most of the city’s homeowners.

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