Skokie board votes not to ban beekeeping

August 19, 2013 (SKOKIE, Ill.)

The village board voted not to ban backyard beekeeping, but will discuss regulating it in the future.

More than 30 people spoke in front of the village board, some of them Skokie residents who raise bees in their backyards, others from cities like Chicago, where beekeeping is legal and they say it is done without problem.

Critics said the ban would have been necessary for public safety.

The village board was considering banning beekeeping under its dangerous animals ordinance.

The hive is under attack. In Skokie, a battle against bees pits neighbor against neighbor.

Theo Watanabe brought bees into her back yard a year ago. Now, there are 50,000 bees. She sees them as extensions of her garden.

Backyard beekeeping is part of a growing trend: One that's legal in densely populated cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where the White House has its own hive.

Earlier this month, Time Magazine wrote about colonization collapse putting bees and agriculture at unprecedented risk.

"Without the pollinators, we're not going to have apples, blueberries, we're not going to have some trees. They're absolutely necessary," said bee enthusiast Robert Kusel.

But in Skokie, the village manager recommended a ban. In a memo, he wrote: "The average lot dimension in Skokie are simply too small to guarantee the safety of those nearby."

A sting for someone who is allergic "could have devastating consequences." That's Myles Ullenbrauck's concern.

"When you have a child who's allergic to bee stings and suddenly someone next door within 30 feet brings hundreds of thousands of bees, that's a concern," Ullenbrauck said.

Watanabe's other neighbors aren't concerned. Neither is 92-year-old Evelyn Shavitz, another Skokie resident with a backyard beehive.

"If you're afraid of the bees then you have a problem," she said.

Many of those who spoke before the village board said that beekeeping poses no more of a risk than having a swimming pool, a trampoline or a dog.

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