Leslie Pugmire Hole/Spokesman staff
Backyard chickens in the city? Forget about it.
That was so 2009. The newest rural-meets-town trend is bees.
“I just think they’re fascinating,” says Gary Wing, a novice beekeeper who, with other apiary owners, recently approached the city of Redmond to ask for reconsideration of an ordinance banning beekeeping within city limits.
Wing, who lives just outside the northwest Redmond city limits, started his hive last spring and has enjoyed watching its impact on his 20-acre parcel of pasture, flowers, vegetables and fruit trees.
“I’ve always been intrigued by beekeeping but my wife was against it for a long time,” says Wing. “Now my son, who lives in Eugene, says he wants to start a hive.” The laden fruit trees and benign presence of the bees eventually won over even Barb Wing, who calls her husband’s project “interesting.”
The beekeepers’ request was sent to the Redmond Urban Area Planning Commission for consideration. After discussion and research, the commission drafted a proposed ordinance that would allow beekeeping within the city, with conditions to address safety and possible nuisances. The code change will require public hearings and approval by the planning commission and city council before it is official.
According to Community Development Director Heather Richards, the trend towards urban beekeeping, as it affects municipalities, is part of a larger push for sustainability.
“We always ask how (in urban planning) we can improve public health and access to local food is one of those ways,” said Richards. “We try to walk through these requests and mitigate so we can allow what people want while minimizing any negative impacts to neighbors.”
Fear from people living in proximity to apiaries is the major hurdle beekeepers face, according to John Connelly, information officer with the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association.
“What usually happens is somebody will decide they want a honeybee hive on their property and people see that and get nervous,” he said. “To them a bee is a hornet is a yellowjacket; they have stingers and its hurts.”
What most people don’t realize, said Connelly, is the fact that wild honeybees are everywhere around them, in hollow trees and abandoned structures, and they typically are very gentle in behavior.
“So neighbors might see a domesticated hive, call the city and say 'There’s a guy here with a hive; is that allowed?’ City goes through its ordinances, sees no mention and rather than get more information they draft an ordinance and the poor guy gets a knock on the door.”
Connelly, who has been keeping bees since childhood, has been helping the city of Bend rework its ordinance regarding beekeeping, which is expected to be approved soon.
“The city of Redmond has been very interested and very appreciative of the information I’ve given them,” he said. The organization has about 45 members and Connelly said he is aware of even more beekeepers in Central Oregon who are not members.
“Beekeepers come from every walk of life but there isn’t a flood of people interested in this,” he said. “There’s a lot of time and some expense involved so we’re not going to see a hive on every corner.”
The importance of backyard beekeeping, outside its rewards to the average hobbyist, cannot be dismissed, said Connelly. With Colony Collapse Disorder decimating commercial apiaries everywhere, scientists hope a strong cadre of small-hive beekeepers will reinvigorate the species.
“One-third of everything we eat depends on bees for pollination,” he said. “We have to increase the number of hives or face food supply shortages.”
The code revisions being considered by the city of Redmond would allow one hive per 5,000 square feet of lot, with a maximum of eight. It also requires hive owners to have the area surrounded by fence or dense vegetation, provide a water source and maintain the hive to avoid overcrowding.
The main reason for the flyway barrier (fencing or shrubs), said Connelly, is to mollify worried neighbors. When bees leave a hive they fly straight out, with a gradual elevation gain. In urban neighborhoods a six-foot fence pushes the bees higher sooner, so they’ll be well above any people before leaving the beekeeper’s property.
“Bees are wild creatures and have instinctual habits,” said Connelly, “We just try to understand and manage that behavior.”
Planning Commissioner Amy Jo Bellew, during discussion of code language, was even more succinct.
“Maybe we should make sure bees read the code,” she said, acknowledging that most beekeeping rules were for the sake of neighbors.
Gary Wing doesn’t have any close neighbors to consider but he understands why people worry.
“Nobody likes getting stung,” he said. Even he, who has no fear of bees, was stung when handling his hive soon after he started it.
“When you’ve got a hive open and you’re looking at thousands of bees crawling around, it can be impressive. One flew close to my head and (before I realized what I was doing) I swatted at it. It was my own fault.”
If you go
What: Beekeeping public hearing
When: 7 p.m., Oct. 5
Where: Redmond Urban Area Planning Commission, 716 SW Evergreen Ave.