Back in August 2016, city council chambers in Valparaiso, Indiana were busy with several residents stating their case for allowing beehives into backyards and within city limits since, as it stood at that point, beekeepers and potential honey makers could not legally tend to bees in Valparaiso in small backyards. One potential beekeeper included local resident and businessman Walt Breitinger, who gave a presentation on honeybees by using an actual hive, stating that “all of our modern scientists are advocating that we change our environment to be more bee friendly.”
Another included Annette Hanson, a local 4-H leader and teacher at the Discovery Charter School in Chesterton. Hanson brought her observation hive filled with honeybees and explained to city council members that they are “more than just bees in a box…Kids learn about the environment and grownups love it too,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic—it calms people down. Backyard beekeeping is an answer to urban environments where these bees aren’t active anymore.” Hanson discussed yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets, explaining how docile honeybees are in comparison. As well, small business owners like Barb Kehe expressed support for the bees, having had hives at her previous residence, and expressed the benefits of having a hive behind her brewery.
After listening to residents, Valparaiso’s city council voted 4-2 in favor of an ordinance that allows residents to legally keep honeybee hives on their property. Until now, honeybees had only been allowed on lots with five contiguous acres and when owned by an educational institution. Councilman John Bowker mentioned allergy concerns and suggested more research on the topic while Councilwoman Deb Porter took to the challenge and introduced an amendment to an existing ordinance that explains what kind of animals are allowed in the city. Porter mentioned the threats against honeybee populations and their evident decline.
Bowker and Councilman Matt Murphy voted against the measure, with Murphy stating that although he recognizes the importance of honeybees to the ecosystem, he had concerns about safety, especially on smaller lots. He noted that some downtown lots are narrow and might not be a good fit when there are children playing in the area. “Between soccer balls and snowballs, it’s not the best mix for some of our neighborhoods,” Murphy said.
However, Councilwoman Porter encouraged the need to help beekeepers sustain garden, flowers, and crops around the city. After minor revisions were made regarding language involving flyway barriers and the distance hives must be from public sidewalks, the city council voted in favor of the ordinance. The ordinance allows up to two hives and must be kept at least ten feet from sidewalks and property lines in rear yards, and the owner must provide the water source.
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