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Beekeeping veto for neighbors rejected

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A plan from city staff that would have let neighbors veto any resident's plan to keep bees was rejected by Evanston's Human Services Committee Monday night.

Health and Human Services Director Evonda Thomas-Smith had come up with the proposed ordinance after aldermen asked for some response to complaints from a resident allergic to bee stings about a hive in her neighbor's yard.

But Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said the requirement to have approval from all abutters before a beekeeping license could be issued went too far.

Brian Miller.

Miller said he would support giving notice to neighbors about plans for a bee hive, but said the hive should be approved unless neighbors object and appeal to the City Council.

Matt Rodgers.

Matt Rodgers, chair of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals said the city's process for handling special use requests doesn't give neighbors veto authority.

And he noted that many issues that come before the ZBA end up having little to do with the ostensible reason for the conflict.

"People show up complaining about the location of an air conditioning unit," Rodgers said, "but it turns out the dispute is really because someone's dog keeps going on someone else's property."

Rodgers added that under the proposed ordinance, in the multi-family residential zone where he lives, he might need the approval of 80 owners of adjacent condos to be able to have a beehive in his yard.

He also objected to the ordinance provision that would have required neighbor approval for annual license renewals. Owners of chicken coop in Evanston, he noted, have to give notice to neighbors before setting up a coop, but they can get their licenses renewed without providing additional notice.

Mark Tendam.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said giving neighbors veto power would elminate beekeeping in the city. And he, along with Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested also setting up areas in the city's community gardens, or on other public land, where residents could keep bees, even if their immediate neighbors object.

"We have a lot of space along the canal that could be conducive to beekeeping," Holmes said.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said she wants Evanston to be a community that supports pollinators, and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the city shouldn't overlegislate the issue. Bees provide a good local food source, and disputes can be amicably resolved between neighbors, Fiske suggested.

Thomas-Smith said the city had only two licensed beehives as of the start of this year, ten years after the beekeeping ordinance was first adopted, but that two new applications have been approved this year and a fifth was recently submitted.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, noted that the beekeeping ordinance now imposes a limit of eight hives per ward, a rule that might need to be revised if beekeeping actually became popular. 

The committee asked city staff to draft a revised set of amendments to the ordinance in time for the committee's June 6 meeting.

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