Mary Pandazi isn't an expert yet, but she's glad more communities, including the city of Waukesha, are now allowing urban beekeeping.
'I find it so fascinating,' said Pandazi, city of Waukesha planner, who has been learning about the hobby at a friend's home in Milwaukee, which itself adopted an ordinance to regulate beekeeping in 2010. 'I want to continue to learn more about it.'
With an approval of its own ordinance last month that outlines guidelines for beekeeping, Waukesha has joined a list of other nearby cities, including Wauwatosa, Greenfield and Shorewood, that have all adopted similar regulations in recent years. Now local residents will have the opportunity to see what all the buzz is about.
Why the rules?
Waukesha Alderman Christopher Hernandez made the referral to the city attorney's office in recent months to create an ordinance after a resident was told by the city to remove a hive from a property because beekeeping wasn't allowed for residential zoning.
Hernandez cited the need of urban beekeeping because of the environmental, economic and education benefits.
City Attorney Brian Running said an ordinance is necessary to regulate beekeeping because it protects all residents in the city. While Running said honeybees are some of the more docile stinging insects, public safety is the city's top objective.
'There's still a potential for these to be a public health threat if they go wild, if they are swarming,' Running said. 'There is a legitimate city interest in regulating this hobby because it does have a potential for being — if not outright dangerous — at least a significant nuisance to the neighboring properties as opposed to a lot of other hobbies that don't affect the health or safety of neighbors.'
Still, Alderman Cory Payne voted against the ordinance because he said the city has not had an incident to warrant an ordinance.
'We have ordinances left and right,' said Payne, who was joined by his father, Eric Payne, and Adam Jankowski as the only aldermen who voted against the ordinance at the March 1 common council meeting. 'We're starting to become pretty regulated and until I see a reason why we need to do this I can't support it.'
Guidelines to follow
After two reviews at the Ordinance and License Committee, a majority of the aldermen are pleased with what the ordinance accomplishes.
A few changes were made to the ordinance from the first time it was presented at the committee level. Initially, a six-feet flyway barrier was part of the ordinance, which Running said was included as a way to 'make sure when bees leave someone's yard they aren't going to be buzzing by at head level.'
But Running said beekeeping clubs felt that restriction is not necessary because bees 'don't respect the flyway barrier' — in other words, they will leave the hive whether there is a six-foot barrier or not.
'It's an unnecessary expense for people getting into the hobby,' Running said.
Where the hives are located has also been adjusted. The hives, as initially proposed, would have had to be at least 25 feet from the public right of way and at least 10 feet from a boundary of the property unless the neighbor on the other side of that boundary gives written allowance. The 25-feet restriction has been removed in favor of a 10-foot setback in all directions.
Moreover, the ordinance now doesn't require beekeepers to provide water by the hive.
The number of hives a beekeeper can maintain depends on the size of a property: two hives for parcels less than one-quarter of an acre, four for one-quarter to a half acre, six for a half and one acre, and eight for parcels larger than an acre.
A two-year permit fee to participate in urban beekeeping is $50.
Waiving the fee for beekeeping education was heavily discussed at the committee and council levels, but was ultimately denied after questions surrounding how the waiver or refund would be financially reconciled and what educational institutions would be recognized by the city, Alderman Aaron Perry said.
'With this being a new ordinance to the city, I felt it was best to pass the best version of the ordinance as we could to ensure urban beekeeping is done in a responsible way this coming season,' Perry said. 'If there are common sense adjustments we need to make on the beekeeping ordinance in the future we'll do that. This could include the permit fee waiver.'
Pandazi said she is in favor of the ordinance because of the responsibility needed to operate hives. She encourages anyone looking to get into the hobby to not just jump into it.
'They should definitely learn about it first,' said Pandazi, who got into the hobby with her father after he expressed interest before passing away. 'They should work with a beekeeper or a beekeeping organization so you get a better sense of the process that goes into it.'
She recommends learning from the Milwaukee Waukesha Beekeepers Association or taking a class to meet people who have a similar interest.
For Pandazi, she is learning more about the hobby through the University of Wisconsin-Extension's Certified Beekeeping Program offered at the UW-Extension Milwaukee County facility on Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa. The program, which costs $115 and meets about once every few months, includes class work as well as outdoor labs.
'I really enjoy the hands-on labs when we went out into the community gardens,' Pandazi said.