LOWELL -- Planning Commission members on Monday voted to ask the City Council for 90 days to research and present an ordinance regulating beekeeping rather than banning the hobby entirely.
The decision came after Community Development Director Karen Davis proposed an amendment to city regulations that would prohibit beekeeping in residential neighborhoods.
Beekeeping in neighborhoods has been an ongoing problem for several years, she said. Residents are required to get a conditional use permit to keep bees in the city, but so far no one has applied, she said.
Recently, a resident keeping a large number of bees on a very small lot has refused to get rid of his bees or apply for a permit, she said. Often the bees swarm in neighboring backyards, she said.
The situation has become such a nuisance, especially for neighbors with life-threatening bee allergies, that neighbors can't use their own backyards, Davis said. Regulating rather than banning beekeeping would require hiring and training another city staff member, something the city doesn't have the resources to do, she said.
Three people appeared before the commission to speak in favor of continuing to allow beekeeping. A fourth person sent an email.
Beekeeper Trent Sullivan of Lowell asked the commission to work with the state bee inspector to develop an ordinance regulating the hobby instead of banning it.
Steve Schinnerer of Cave Springs, president of the Benton County Beekeeping Association, said that even if someone has bees, it doesn't necessarily mean their neighbors will see more bees. Bees forage within a 3-mile radius and have a cruising altitude of about 30 feet. Bees are very gentle and will not sting unless provoked, he said.
"At any time, there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of bees traversing Lowell," he said.
Helen Duncum of Rogers, treasurer for the Arkansas Beekeepers Association, said bees are at their gentlest when they swarm and aren't usually dangerous.
"If you take the honeybees out of your city, the people who have gardens, the people who have flowers, are going to seriously have some issues," she said.
Commission member Michael Phillips said he has been a beekeeper for several years, although he keeps his bees outside city limits. Phillips said he isn't in favor of a bee ban, but he did feel the city needs to regulate beekeeping in a manner that leads to responsible beekeeping. Other commission members echoed his sentiment.
Phillips said he feels regulations should restrict beekeeping on small lots, although he noted there are about 10,000 beekeepers in New York City and said he has a friend who keeps bees on the roof of her apartment building.
"If they can have bees in New York City, we can figure out a way to have bees in Lowell," Phillips said.
Rogers, Springdale and Siloam Springs don't have any ordinances regarding beekeeping inside city limits, according to city officials. Both Bentonville and Fayetteville have ordinances regulating but not prohibiting beekeeping.
State law requires beekeepers to register their apiaries and colonies, according to Mark Stoll, director of regulatory services for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture's plant division. There are 23 beekeepers with a Lowell address, although it's not clear whether they live inside or outside of city limits, or whether they keep their bees at their addresses, he said.
There are nearly 400 registered colonies in Benton County and 356 registered colonies in Washington County, he said. Washington and Pulaski counties have the most residential bee colonies in the state, he said.
Jon Zawislak, apiculture specialist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, said urban beekeeping is probably more common than people realize.
Most cities in the state and the nation don't have regulations on beekeeping, but those that do follow a similar pattern that either limit the number of beehives on a particular lot based on the size of the lot, require clean water to be available, require the beekeeper to add a barrier -- such as a privacy fence or hedge that encourages bees to fly straight up to their cruising altitude before leaving the property -- or restrict how close hives can be to the edge of their property.
Zawislak said he isn't aware of any city in Arkansas that prohibits beekeeping.
Having a group of responsible and educated beekeepers in town is a good idea because if there is ever a random swarm, there is someone who knows how to collect and relocate them safely without having to call the fire department or exterminate them, Zawislak said.
The Planning Commission's request for more time to develop beekeeping regulations will go before the City Council on July 20.