The Human Services Committee rejected an outright ban on beekeeping in Evanston Tuesday night, but on a split vote recommended to the City Council a measure that would have much the same effect.

The aldermen voted to amend a proposed ordinance to increase from 15 to 25 feet the minimum required separation of a bee hive from any property line at the suggestion of Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, who had supported a complete ban.

Since the vast majority of lots in Evanston are no more than 50 feet wide, most Evanstonians would be effectively barred from keeping bees if the full City Council adopts that proposal.

“I think 25 feet is ridiculous,” Alderman Steven Bernstein, 4th Ward, said, “it would prohibit almost everybody in town.”

The aldermen rejected a proposal from Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, to permit keeping bees if immediate neighbors consented, although supporters of that measure noted that the city lets neighbors vote on alley paving projects, the installation of speed-control humps on the street and whether front-yard fences will be permitted on a block.

“I think that activity [beekeeping] doesn’t work in a compact neighborhood,” Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said.

Ald. Moran, who backed a complete ban, added: “I’m not bothered by bees, but it’s asking too much of people to be tolerant of beekeeeping.”

During a discussion of whether existing hives might be grandfathered in as being permitted under the regulation, the city’s health director, Jay Terry, noted that despite the five months of debate over the issue, the city has only been made aware of two residents who currently keep bees in the city.

One has had no complaints from neighbors. The proposed installation of the other hive sparked the swarm of protest from neighbors that led to the calls for regulation.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who supported the 25-foot rule, said, “We have an obligation to make people feel safe, but you can’t ban bees, they’re going to be be there, even if we ban beekeeping.”

A National Safety Council study mentioned during the committee’s debate estimates that nationwide 66 people die each year of stings from hornets, wasps and bees, compared to 47 killed by lightning and 32 who die of dog bites.

By comparison 3,369 die in fires, 11,920 are killed in assaults using firearms and 44,757 die in motor-vehicle accidents.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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