Planners abuzz over beekeeping proposal

‘We need as many pollinators as we can get’

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 5, 2024

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The Sterling Heights Planning Commission recently deliberated over proposed regulations that could make it easier for residents to literally mind their own beeswax — by maintaining beekeeping apiaries in the city.

During a Dec. 13 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend a proposed beekeeping ordinance. The proposal would more broadly allow single-family residential properties to engage in hobby beekeeping, as well as multifamily and nonresidential properties under certain circumstances.

During a meeting presentation, Assistant City Planner Shawn Keenan said the current rules only allow beekeeping on Sterling Heights single-family residential properties of 8 acres or larger. He explained how the ordinance proposal addresses permitting and processes pertaining to hobbyist beekeeping.

Keenan said city officials believe that beekeeping could bring positive benefits for pollination, as well as let residents produce honey, jelly and beeswax. He said the proposed rules take inspiration from Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices, or GAAMPs.

The presentation explained that GAAMPs standards include putting the hives in quiet spots with a constant water supply, as well as setting up a flyway barrier that adjusts the bees’ flight paths and keeps them from moving toward neighbors.

Keenan said that among the newly proposed regulations, local beekeepers would need a permit and would need to put their hives in either the side or back yard, at least 25 feet away from the property line. The city would also require residential beekeepers to have a flyway barrier and water supply, and the proposal would protect schools and daycare facilities from having unwanted hives next to them.

“The ordinance was drafted with the hopes that, should the Planning Commission and City Council wish to pursue allowing hobby beekeeping in the city, that it can be done in a well-regulated and safe manner,” Keenan said.

After the presentation, Planning Commission members responded. Planning Commission Vice Chair Nathan Inks praised the ordinance overall but criticized a stipulation that he said called for animal control, the building official, code enforcement and the city planner to periodically check beekeepers’ property without a search warrant.

“That just seems very excessive, to me,” Inks said, adding later: “That just seems like a lot of resources too, for bees. Our code enforcement is already busy as it is.”

In response, City Planner II Alexis Richards said she thought the intent was to give the city the ability to inspect in response to a neighbor’s concern. She added that a proposed beekeeping permit would be valid for three years, which could mean that a property could be inspected every three years.

Planning Commission member Geoff Gariepy sought clarification on whether the beekeeping in question, which was sometimes described as hobbyist or noncommercial, would still allow participants to sell their honey or other byproducts at farmers markets.

In response, Richards said selling those products at farmers markets would be allowed, adding that the intent is to prohibit large-scale commercial operations.

Gariepy also suggested keeping the beekeeping application fee as low as possible.

“We need as many pollinators as we can get,” he said.

When responding to a different question, Richards added that if a bee colony is found to be aggressive, the beekeeper must relocate or destroy the colony.

Despite the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the proposal will not change the local laws unless the Sterling Heights City Council votes to adopt it at a future meeting.

Learn more about the Sterling Heights Planning Commission by visiting