166 days after receiving the letter from the City Attorney.
Countless meetings, phone calls, emails, conversations, sleepless nights…
And here it is.
We are finally, finally legal.
166 days after receiving the letter from the City Attorney.
Countless meetings, phone calls, emails, conversations, sleepless nights…
And here it is.
We are finally, finally legal.
I have 8 more hours of waiting until I find out if we received out beekeeping license. I though a good diversion from the churning ball of nerves in my stomach would be another blog post. 🙂
You know, when you meet people as they ask what you do, it never crossed my mind until recently to state that I am a beekeeper, probably because it was “just one hive” and that it was a hobby. Someone who knits doesn’t respond to the questions by stating that they are a knitter. I hate that question anyway. Maybe it is because I do not have a 9-5 job in which I am compensated for the time I spend that is all added up at the end of the year and reported in your taxes. Maybe it is because I typically state “whatever I want” when someone asks me what I do. Or “Queen of the Universe,” “Master & Commander,” or if in a setting where none of these are appropriate, I answer “Full-time Volunteer.” Recently the position that I used to be paid for is one that I do for free. A lot of tasks that I did in past lives (fundraising, grant-writing, etc.) I still DO, just not for any monetary compensation. My children are both in school all day (4th grade and 2nd grade), so I don’t think “stay-at-home Mom” applies any longer. And I sure as heck do not “make my home”, so homemaker does not apply.
When we got our first hive (our “hobby hive”) I was expecting a lot, but I never realized how addicting, exhilarating, and enjoyable it would be. We got it as a living teaching tool (not only for the kids but for everyone), for pollination and as a hobby. I never realized that it would turn into a passion, something that I would stand up and fight for and educate people about for 5 and a half months. I never realized that it would be something to get me out of my shell and over my fear of public speaking. I never realized that it would make friends and allies out of the most unlikely people, and bind together people of a community, of sorts. As hokey as it sounds, that ONE decision has changed our lives completely.
With this, we are creating “Bethel’s Seven Hills Honey,” Seven Hills being a nod to our area, as the City of Port Washington is widely known as having seven hills. Thanks to two trips out to Lapp’s Bee Supply Store, we have just about everything we need to get started… minus the new tenants. 🙂
Everywhere I go, I am asked if we have honey for sale. Our BeePod is great as a “hobby hive” for observation and pollination. It does produce a small amount of excess honey for us beekeepers, not nearly enough as my husband Mike would like to consume. So, yes, it will be nice to have a little side money coming in to help support our new-found bee addiction. Also, my children, myself and my husband suffer from horrible seasonal allergies. I would much rather feed them honey than some prescription or over-the-counter drug to combat it. With the increase of GMO crops (coming soon to your sugar beets!), I am going to get my family off of as much sugar as possible. What better way to sweeten your coffee with than honey– much better than sugar with a side of pesticides.
So my question is this: have I now entered the realm of, when asked “What do you do?”, can I finally add “beekeeper” to that list? Given the time, resources and energy that I have put into my ability to keep bees, I would like to think so.
This past Wednesday, we were finally able to crack open the top-bar hive for the first time this season. Given all of our (well-documented) stressing about wintering the hive, we were very unsure of what we were going to find.
The weather was gorgeous, in the low 60’s, light breeze and full sun. The bees were happy, curious and friendly. We were thrilled by the volume of fondant that was left in the hive. Since our hive got a late start (we got our bees in mid-July), they did not have what we felt was a sufficient amount of honey to get them through a typical Wisconsin winter. We added fondant in the end of November and again in mid-January. Seeing as there was an abundance of it remaining, we helped supplement them through this warm, unseasonable winter.
The only thing that was unexpected was the absence of eggs or larvae. We looked as best we could, but given the volume of bees surrounding the queen, it is entirely possible that we did not see some tiny fresh eggs. It could also point to the fact that winter may not be finished yet and the Queen isn’t quite ready to start building up the hive. We will do another inspection here in the next week or so and we should be seeing some eggs by then.
All in all, given the statistics, the wonky winter, and the horror stories (and pictures) of completely dead hives, we are ecstatic at the survival of our hive. The ladies have been out gathering pollen and water like crazy here the last week or two, so they are eager to get a jump start this year.
Back to the story at hand.
The last part of the saga was the unanimous passing of Ordinance 2012-1 Licensing and Regulating Beekeeping in the City of Port Washington. This was the collaborative efforts of area beekeeping experts (including Charlie Koenen from BeePods), the City Planner, the City Administrator, the City Attorney and others. They referred to other urban beekeeping ordinances, tweaked it to meet the needs of Port and the liking of the Aldermen, Mayor and City Attorney. We thought it was as good as it could have been.
A part of the ordinance is the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF-1). The City maps out a 200 foot radius from the center of the property where the applicant resides. The applicant is then required to contact the homeowners of the properties within this radius, showing them a hand-drawn map of the property (including where the hive is, flyaway barriers, water, property lines, etc.), and have them sign the form, checking that they either approve or that they oppose. There is also a third box stating that one (or more) people residing at the address has a demonstrable medical condition caused by bee stings. According to the ordinance, if more than 30% of homeowners within the radius oppose, or is 1 who has the medical condition opposes, the applicant will then be required to have a hearing in front of the City Council, who will then decide the fate of the applicant. Follow all of that? 🙂
The first day of the NNF canvassing, I step outside on a chilly afternoon in my jeans, layered shirts, mittens and casual coat and my favorite pink Adidas sneakers. My husband then informs me (in one way, shape or form) that I may want to put more consideration into my outfit choice. So I put on a nice pair of black pants, sweater, dress shoes and my wool peacoat. As I am wandering, knocking and ringing doorbells unsuccessfully, it occurs to me that no one knows who I am because I look nothing like I usually do when they see me chasing my kids, out for a walk or bike ride, or up to my elbows in my garden. Aside from meeting with the Priest to sign off for the neighboring Church/school/nursing home, I came up pretty empty.
We live in an eclectic mix of a neighborhood– residents who have been here 50+ years, young families new to the area, renters, part-time residents, and vacant properties. Seeing as the Ordinance calls for “homeowners,” this made it difficult to reach some of the non-resident homeowners. All in all, I figure that out of the 25 or so properties in the radius, I was able to be in contact with over 15 of the property owners; the remaining 10 either do not live at the residence or after 4-6 attempts, I stopped trying. All but one person was aware of what was going on, and in fact, the biggest response I got was, “We were wondering when you were going to come around!” It was a wonderful opportunity to exchange information and answer questions, but for the most part it was a lot of preaching to the choir. But I am never one to shy away from an opportunity to talk bees and beekeeping, so it was a good experience.
After turning in the application and NNF-1, the City sent all of the homeowners in the 200 foot radius a Notification of Beekeeping Application along with the map we had to make with the NNF-1 form. The letter states that homeowners have 14 days to submit a written objection to the application. 14 days.
We will deal with whatever hand we are dealt, as we always have. So again, cautiously optimistic.
3+ months, hundreds of emails and phone calls, umpteen meetings and 1 beesentation later, and Port Washington, Wisconsin is the latest city to adopt an urban beekeeping ordinance!!
It was passed approximately 17 hours ago and I am still having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. I keep waiting to wake up and I will still be stuck in local government purgatory, but it is official… Port is now bee-friendly! 🙂
My mind is completely jumbled, full of emotion and excitement, and we are eager to start the individual licensing process.
Thank you all for your kind words and support during this long process. As I have said many times, it is only with the help and support of others that we have been able to carry on, so thank you!
3.5 months later and here it is… tomorrow is the final reading of Port Washington’s urban beekeeping ordinance, complete with a vote.
At the last meeting, there were a few clarifications that the Aldermen had asked for, some minor changes, and I believe there have even been some last-minute changes as well just in the last few days. The Aldermen requested a draft of what is called the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF), which a beekeeping applicant will be required to have neighbors within a set radius of their property (it appears to be 200 feet) sign off and turn in to the City. I have not seen the NNF nor the latest version of the ordinance– there is a fine line between wanting to be involved and becoming a pain in the rear end. I am trying to find a good balance.
While I am looking forward to the vote tomorrow night, I am not nearly as relieved yet as I thought I would be. Besides having to get this ordinance to pass, we will have to go into the individual licensing process. With the NNF, if more than 30% of the neighbors object, it triggers a hearing in front of the City Council. In addition, if 1 person in that area with a “demonstrable medical condition” caused by a bee sting objects, automatic hearing. There will be fees, inspections, drawings, and meetings. And even then, when we get our license (assuming we can and DO), we have to reapply annually, and if any property in that NNF radius changes hands, we have to go through the form with them as well.
Nevertheless, I have to focus on the bigger picture. Beekeeping is not a solitary hobby; it is one where a community is built rapidly and relied on frequently. In that aspect, tomorrow’s vote should be a complete victory, enabling citizens in Port Washington to be able to responsibly keep beehives on their property, helping the honeybee population, and pollination, but also helping us build a “hive” of fellow beekeepers right here in our back yard. We are excited about the possibilities that this opens up for our community!
So for now it’s one foot in front of the other, plodding along. Tomorrow night is the vote, and then we are on to the next step of this saga. Time to get our little ladies to go from felonious to law-abiding! 🙂
To continue this saga where I last left off—>
At the December 20th Port Washington Common Council Meeting, the City Planner and the City Administrator introduced their draft of Port’s urban beekeeping policy. Charlie from BeePods and the Urban Ecology Center was there to give his thoughts and ideas on the document, and he was able to address the Council and clarify things. It was met with rave reviews from the Council members and a fair amount of questions asked by the City Attorney. It was understood that the document was very organic, that it would continue to be tweaked and changed, not only from feedback from City officials, but also based on input from Charlie. We walked out of there with positive attitudes, feeling nothing but good vibes from everyone involved. And I am pleased to say that’s still the case. 🙂
There were a couple of gray areas that needed to be dealt with and some modifications/clarifications, and from the last draft I have seen, it is ready to rock and roll! As I have stated in previous blog posts, with all of the research I have done since October, I have read literally dozens of ordinances varying from restrictive to bee-tolerant to bee- (and beekeeper-) friendly. This last version is the closest to bee-friendly I have seen. Period. I knew that Port was looking to other communities’ ordinances as a rough model, a starting point, and my fear was that it was going to be a very restrictive starting point. If I were asked to characterize the last draft I saw, the words I would use would be responsible and educated. It is readily apparent the amount of time that these two gentlemen spent on this topic, and for that we are grateful.
I was accused by a Council member of not wanting any regulations on beekeeping, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I told him that the last thing I want is a neighbor who has taken checked out “Beekeeping for Dummies” from the local library, thumbed through it, and goes out and gets 5 stacks of Langstroths and a nuc for each, installs the bees in Spring, shoves them under a tree on his 40’x60′ lot next to a neighbor’s swimming pool, and doesn’t do a thing with them until he’s ready to harvest (steal) ALL of the honey in Fall. 1.) It’s irresponsible. 2.) It doesn’t do anything to help the honeybee population. 3.) It gives beekeepers a bad image… and that doesn’t even touch on the obvious safety issues.
The thing with regulations (like a lot of things) is that it is a slippery slope. Once you get started imposing the terms and conditions, it is easy to go too far. Not the case here. This particular draft allows for a beekeeper to proceed with their hobby in an urban setting in a way that not only keeps the neighboring residents happy, but allows for the bees to be kept in the locations and the manner in which best suits the bees. When looking at hive placement, some ordinances look solely at having the hive be in the dead center of the lot/yard, furthest from the public right-of-way and neighboring properties; this does not leave any room for the beekeeper to look at optimal locations, taking into account sunlight, residents’ living/play space, flight pattern, etc. Some ordinances fail to write it in a way that allows for a hive to be placed on a porch, a deck or even a rooftop. We are thankful that our (hopefully!) soon-to-be ordinance takes all of these things into consideration, is very forward-thinking, and is community-oriented– it allows for conversations with neighbors (rather than postal notification), it allows for neighbors to sign-off on closer hive placement, and it encourages joining a local beekeeping organization/community. This may very well become the new “Go-To” ordinance for beekeepers to introduce to their communities. It is that well written.
On to tonight~ at 7:30 PM is the Common Council Meeting where they will have the official 1st Reading of the proposed beekeeping ordinance for the City of Port Washington. This is a big day… one of many big days, with a few more yet to come. If all goes well tonight, at the next Meeting in two weeks, they will have the 2nd Reading, followed by the vote. (My stomach just did an ever-so-slight somersault. Or seven.)
We are going into the meeting tonight cautiously optimistic.
Ooohhhh, to hell with it!! We are going into the meeting tonight
cautiously completely, uncharacteristically optimistic.
It feels like I have been holding my breath since the beginning of October, when we first received the letter from the City Attorney about our urban beehive. It has been a long process of ups and downs, phone calls, meetings, letters and emails, weighing our options and planning our next steps, but it would appear as though we may actually be able to stop and simply breathe right now, after holding our breath for months.
Did someone say it’s Christmas?!?! Where did the last two months go??? Oh, yeah… that’s right… 🙂
Going into the meeting Tuesday night, we had become aware of the fact that it was not, in fact, going to be the first reading for the proposed ordinance, but just an update on the draft. We went to the meeting early to make ourselves available yet again, and were greeted by a neighbor who happened to be there regarding another issue. He attended our open house in October, and he again stated his support for our hive. Then we were surprised to be approached by one of the City officials who has been, shall I say, not our biggest supporter. He asked a few specific questions (which I always see as a positive sign, that there is engagement and interest), which we were happy to answer. Our mentor and friend Charlie Koenen from BeePods also came to help us out. Unfortunately, there was a lot on the agenda, which made for an anxious 2 hours before our issue came up, and of course, it was right after a very heated, contentious 45 minute long debate. I was sweating and squirming the entire time, absolutely sick with nerves.
The City Planner and City Administrator started out by stating that the ordinance that they had drafted was being modeled after Milwaukee and Evanston, Illinois’ ordinances. After some explanations, Charlie was allowed to get up and speak to the Council members. He spoke point by point about ideas, concerns and suggestions that he had, and he was able to answer questions from the Council and, in particular, the City attorney. All of the Alermen had positive responses not only to Charlie’s thoughts but also to the document as a whole. The City Planner and the City Administrator said that they are going to make a few changes and that the City attorney was going to “have his crack at it” and that it would be presented to the Council for a First Reading at one of the two January meetings.
Following the meeting, I took the opportunity to speak with the City Planner to thank him for his hard work and time and tell him what a great job he did with the draft. In all sincerity, the working draft rivals some communities’ ordinances. It is closer to being bee-friendly than many others, as opposed to strictly bee-tolerant, and it allows for dialogue with neighbors, local beekeeping associations, the state bee inspector, bee educators, City officials, and individual beekeepers. It is extremely forward-thinking in it’s language and is obviously the result of many hours of research and conversations, and we are beyond appreciative. It is one thing for those of us who are passionate to learn more about our hobby, but he and the City Administrator have done so by default. They could have easily looked to adopt a carbon-copy ordinance from another city, but instead they took into account what would work best in our community. Even Aldermen who were on the fence at last conversation appear to be standing behind this document right now. Aaaand exhale!
Now we can rest for this Christmas week, having a little less stress for the time being. Yes, minds can easily be changed back to the fear and the negativity that we were facing earlier, but we cannot allow that to dictate our attitude right now. It is simply time to breathe, to enjoy this period of peace (albeit short-lived, as it usually is), and celebrate this small victory.
One of the days that we have been anticipating is rapidly approaching~ the day of the first reading of the City of Port Washington’s beekeeping ordinance. I thought that I would be more nervous, but really… with all we have been through (and all we still have yet to endure), I think it has given me some perspective that this is a necessary hurdle. The only question is, how high is it?
The City Planner was kind enough to emailing me the working-draft of the proposed beekeeping ordinance on Thursday; in addition, he also sent it to Charlie and another beekeeping reference person, Andy, for feedback and input. On Friday, after taking into consideration some of the feedback from Andy, some changes were made to the document and it was again sent to me. In the last 2 months, I have become quite informed about the ordinances across the US (and even Canada and the UK), and this is actually pretty… darn… workable! …Assuming that it withstands the scrutiny of the City Councilmen and that it passes. At this point, that’s a pretty big assumption.
So here’s what will happen: Tuesday evening at the City Council meeting, they will have the first reading of the proposed ordinance regulating beekeeping in the City of Port Washington. At that time, the Aldermen, City Planner, City Administrator, Mayor and City Attorney will weigh in, give their opinions and debate the ordinance that the City Administrator and the City Planner drafted. Whether we are able to speak or answer questions is uncertain; typically the audience is not engaged during the Council meetings, although it does happen occasionally. Basically, we can talk during the public comments portion at the beginning and the public comments portion at the end, but otherwise we just get to sit and listen to the conversation. That should be followed by a 2nd Reading and a vote on the ordinance two weeks later. Then, if passed, we will have to go through whatever individual, case-by-case process that is decided upon. And rest assured, it will be a process. Tuesday is just step #43 of at least 100. It is just the next major step.
The fact that this has blown up into the firestorm that it has amazes me. I am an uneventful, run-of-the-mill, average, 30-ish mom who just so happens to keep honeybees. I have gone the last 10 years being defined by either who I am married to or who my children are, and have spent the last two months defined by my hobby and one of my passions– my bees. I exercised due diligence in finding out the laws regarding beekeeping, becoming informed and educated, and choosing the optimal space and the perfect equipment for what I was intending to do… I never would have imagined that I would be here. I also never would have thought that the City officials would have reacted as they have, both positively and negatively– private conversations with City officials that were filled with compassion and candor, and also private conversations with City officials with patronizing, belittling and demeaning attitudes. I never would have predicted the response we have gotten from the media and from the general public. Nothing has ever been predictable or what it seems throughout this.
All of that being said, I wish I knew how this was going to go, that I had some sort of an indicator, but I am without. Conversations and meetings that I thought would go smoothly left me stunned, and likewise, things that I was dreading and sick with anxiety were a breeze. I have encountered ignorance and roadblocks from people I expected to be more educated and informed. I have also made friends and partnerships in some of the strangest, most unexpected places and with the last people I would have thought that would ever align themselves with me. I used to think I was a good people-reader and that I could feel out a situation well, but not after this. All I can do is hope and pray for the best, but be prepared for everything else.
Stay tuned for updates on this. Charlie emailed in some suggestions and hopefully they will be considered. He will also be at the City Council meeting on Tuesday to lend a hand and a voice to the cause, along with being available to answer questions if needed. I am hoping to then spend the next two weeks providing any follow-up information that is needed for everyone to make an informed, educated vote. If you are in SE Wisconsin and are passionate about honeybees and want to lend your support, please consider coming, 7:30 PM, Port Washington City Hall.
I return from a much needed self-imposed period of non-blogging for a couple of reasons: 1.) “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything,” and, 2.) I have made it this far in my dealings with City officials without having stooped to the level in which I have been treated at times, without having engaged in a back-and-forth/tit-for-tat exchange when provoked, and I have been nothing but proactive even when needlessly bound by red tape. Even as I type this, it tales all that I have to not spew forth a lot of the thoughts that have been going through my head for 2 months (but especially for the last 3 weeks), which is why I went radio-silent.
Hasn’t helped much. 🙂
There hasn’t been much to report, unfortunately. The Beesentation was held a few weeks ago in response to City Aldermen stating that they did not have much education or information to base a decision on; only 1 Alderman showed up. Part of me (naively) thought that I would be contacted in the weeks following the Beesentation from City officials with questions, concerns, or to gather information. Not so much. Actually, not at all. I spoke with the Mayor by phone shortly after the Beesentation and told him that for the first time in this process, I was at a loss for what I could do next. He was sympathetic but stated that there wasn’t much that he could really do (which I already knew). I asked him if he happened to know what the City Council’s plan was for obtaining education, since only 1 of the 7 had taken mine or Charlie’s invitation to contact us. Nope, no idea.
While it would have been great to then hit my blog, Twitter and Facebook with a scathing 5,000 word rant, including the names, phone numbers and email addresses of the Aldermen and every other City official, that is not the row I chose to hoe. When we received that first letter from the City, we had a choice to make: fight or educate and advocate. If we would have chosen to fight, we would have put a lot of people on the defense, and rarely does anything good come of that. So we chose to educate and advocate. This has meant a lot of tongue-biting, taking the high road, walking away, smiling when you want to scream, and a lot of Radio Silence. This means that I sit through City Council meetings where the very Alderman who called my honeybees a danger to children advocates for the right for people to be armed with guns in City Hall.
It is hard to not get bitter, angry, and at the end, apathetic. But I smile on, push the rock up the hill, and will continue to until all of my avenues are completely exhausted.