Beekeeping is a growing trend in the suburbs and now Des Plaines city officials, at the urging of Ward 4 resident Rick Bohning, are investigating whether it should be allowed there.
Bohning raised the issue last summer with the hopes of starting his own apiary, and this week the city's legal and licensing committee met to discuss creating a draft policy for beekeeping.
A survey of 12 neighboring communities shows Buffalo Grove, Hoffman Estates, Northbrook, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Wheeling don't regulate beekeeping, while Evanston, Hanover Park, Palatine and Glencoe allow it by ordinance. Barrington and Streamwood ban the practice entirely.
Hanover Park, which is home to the Midwest's only community apiary, allows beekeeping only on village-owned properties.
Beehives also are legal in Elk Grove Village, Arlington Heights and Chicago.
According to Des Plaines' city code, beehives are considered a nuisance and are not allowed within a quarter-mile of any house, church, school, park or public gathering place.
The distance requirement makes it difficult for anyone to legally keep bees, Des Plaines Acting City Manager Jason Slowinski told committee members.
"My only recommendation to you if you do consider an ordinance allowing beekeeping, you should put some restrictions and regulations in place," Slowinski said.
He said beekeepers should be registered with the state, there should be an administrative fee for issuing annual city licenses and for inspections, all hives should be enclosed behind secure fencing and a gate with a sign warning of the presence of bees, and beehives should not be located less than 25 feet from any property line. And officials should consider setting a minimum lot size.
Committee chairman and 2nd Ward Alderman John Robinson said the council may want to consider limiting the number of apiaries. Slowinski said he hasn't encountered a big demand for beekeeping.
Des Plaines 5th Ward Alderman Jim Brookman said he would prefer the city leave beekeeping unregulated and not increase the burden on staff to enforce a new ordinance.
"I don't feel we need to get involved in it," Brookman said.
City Attorney Dave Wiltse said if beekeeping is left unregulated, it would be considered an illegal activity by city code. "If it's not specifically allowed, it's disallowed."
Des Plaines 4th Ward Alderman Dick Sayad said he is concerned about the safety of residents.
"What happens if a storm knocks the beehive?" Sayad asked. "How many bees can you keep? I think there's a lot of questions, and if we put a code out there, then I think we're taking the responsibility."
Bohning said there already are four operating beehives in the city and that he hoped to start one as a hobby. He and his wife, Wendy, recently took a class with the state's only master beekeeper. Though the state regulates beekeeping, there is no requirement for beekeepers to be licensed and registering beehives is done voluntarily, he said.
Bohning said honeybees are docile and generally don't pose a threat to residents. "Honeybees are not aggressive except when protecting the honey storage in their hive."
Slowinski said there have not been any complaints about beehives.
Wendy Bohning referenced the city sustainability report that suggests promoting farmers markets and developing community gardens to produce food for consumption locally. "If Des Plaines wants to be green, this is an easy way to do it," she said.
The committee directed city staff to research the matter further and bring back more information for review.