by Darren Diekmann
By a 4 to 1 vote, the city council of Sartell has voted against a proposal to amend ordinances that would allow for the keeping of honeybees in residential zones in the city.
Going against the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation, the Sartell City Council at its April 24 meeting, decided keeping honey bees in residential areas poses a much greater risk than benefit to residents.
Council member Mike Chisum summed up the council’s reason for its decision:
“I did not see a legitimate reason to bring thousands of bees into a residential neighborhood,” he said recently. “Yes, there are already bees in the neighborhoods but not in the numbers and concentration that would be with these [proposed] hives.”
Chisum and other council members said beekeeping was an activity best kept in the areas zoned agricultural — as is currently allowed.
More than two dozen Sartell residents were interviewed about their opinions of the council’s action. Only three were in agreement with the rejection of the proposal. One said she was allergic, two said they were anxious having that many bees so near their children. None of the three wanted to be identified and declined to comment further.
Of the remaining, about a third thought the proposal should have passed and were enthusiastic supporters of beekeeping. Another third were cautiously in favor, reassured by the restrictions in the proposal. The other third responded with a shrug but didn’t see the harm in it.
A typical response came from Rachael Gerads of 226 Finch Court, Sartell.
“I think [beekeeping] is very beneficial,” Gerads said.” I don’t think people realize how much we need bees. We could lose a lot of plants without them.”
Brad Justin of 6100 389th St., Sartell, had a similar response, saying he has relatives in rural St. Joseph who keep bees, and he doesn’t believe they would be a problem in town. Brad’s wife, Raelynn, said she thinks bees and beekeeping is “kind of cool.”
There were also those who felt a little stronger about it, such as Greg Budde from 230 Finch Court, Sartell.
“I think that was very narrow-minded of them [the city council],” Budde said. “I think they should allow beekeeping. Bees are struggling and we need bees.”
He said he has some rural property where he allows others to keep a few hives. Even when near the hives, he has never had a problem with the bees.
“You don’t even know they are there,” he said.
That was one point Tri-County Beekeeping Association representative Jesse Jaskolka emphasized while speaking at the council meeting in support of the proposal – that the bees would not be a menace to neighbors. To support this, he cited the absence of any complaints in the nearby towns that allow beekeeping.
St. Joseph, Rice, St. Cloud and Waite Park don’t expressly prohibit beekeeping and therefore allow it in residential areas. Sauk Rapids allows it with restrictions. City officials in all these communities say they are not aware of any serious complaints, Jaskolka said.
Jaskolka emphasized the non-aggressive nature of honeybees. He also said the proposal included a common requirement in a beekeeping ordinance, a flyway – a 6-foot fence of thick vegetation – around the bee hives. When leaving the hive to forage, the flyway forces the bees to fly up above head level, where most would stay, flying over neighbors’ yards while foraging up to 2-½ miles. This, along with a water source nearby in the beekeepers’ yard would, in theory, prevent bees from concentrating in neighboring yards.
Stephany Chapel of Sartell was with three friends celebrating a birthday at The Blue Line Sports Bar & Grill when the Newsleaders asked her about the proposal.
Chapel and three women she was with were representative of others who said they believe the council’s time would be better spent on more important issues like road repair or keeping the cost down on new roundabouts.
When pressed, Chapel found she did have an opinion.
“They (bees) have a good purpose and I believe they do more good than bad,” she said.
But she has seen hives that are poorly maintained and are an eyesore, she added.
When the flyway was explained to her, she responded: “In a residential area, a fence like that? I do think that would be an eyesore.”
One of Chapel’s friends said she has no problem with bees. Another had no opinion. The third, Melissa, told a story of her father who kept bees as a hobby until one day he was using a chainsaw to clear tree branches from the hive.
“The bees swarmed on him and stung him and we had to take him to the hospital,” she said.
Undeterred by this brush with death, her father continued the practice. After his second sting and hospitalization, he decided the hobby was not worth his life and gave it up.
“I would say you should have to check with your neighbors and make sure there was no one allergic,” Melissa said.
The failed proposal did require approval from neighbors, but it was limited to adjacent property owners only.
Brian Bahl of Sartell represented a handful of residents with his take on the issue. He wasn’t as concerned about safety or the environment as about property owners’ rights. He is impatient with unnecessary restrictions. Bahl said he has friends in St. Cloud who keep honeybees without incident. He thinks a person should be able to do with his own property what he wants as long as no one is hurt or greatly inconvenienced, he said.
Beekeepers and proponents for beekeeping aren’t sure what the immediate future holds. But they believe the council will eventually revisit the issue, and they believe it will be resolved in their favor.