Next week, Riverside’s village board could essentially greenlight a pilot program allowing residents to raise chickens and bees in their backyards. 

While a formal vote on adopting a new law won’t be taken at the board’s Aug. 4 meeting, trustees are on track to direct the village attorney to draw up an ordinance for the one-year pilot program and then vote on the measure Aug. 18. 

It’s unlikely the attorney would move ahead with drafting the law unless trustees are on board with the plan.

“Hopefully we’ll find out if there’s consensus to let the attorneys draft something,” said Village President Ben Sells. “Given the pilot nature of the program, it seemed to me there was support.”

Riverside residents who want to weigh in on the subject have a couple of more bites at the apple, then, to tell trustees what they think before a final vote, which easily could be withheld until early September if trustees want more clarity.

But on July 21, during the latest discussion of the subject, there didn’t appear to be too many dissenting voices. What remains to be sorted out are specific details of how the pilot project would work, primarily rules for where chickens and bees can be kept on a property, how far away they must be from neighbors and how neighbors are to be notified should someone in the neighborhood seek to raise chickens or bees.

 A rough draft of a pilot program was unveiled July 21 at the village board’s regular meeting. Sells called the ordinance “purposely over-drafted” in order to spur discussion and obtain direction for changes to the document.

Any pilot program would limit the number of properties where chickens and bees could be raised to 15 apiece for the year-long trial. If more than 15 people apply, then a lottery would be used to choose whose applications were accepted. Each licensee would pay $50 the first year and $25 to renew the license annually if the program were extended.

Any law finally adopted would limit the number of hens that could be raised on a property to a maximum of four (and a minimum of two). A maximum of two beehives would be allowed per licensee.

A couple of residents at the July 21 meeting argued the village simply ought to allow bees to be raised by right, saying apiaries were not a nuisance and that guaranteeing just a one-year trial wasn’t fair because hives were an expensive investment, not a hobby.

“You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” said Riverside resident Tom Lupfer, who was ordered to remove a beehive he’d erected in the past. Lupfer said he hadn’t received a single complaint about the hive until it was revealed when leaves fell off the hedge that had camouflaged it.

But Sells and other trustees argued they owed it to residents who were not sold on the idea of either chickens or bees to institute a trial period first.

“This is a community decision,” Sells said.

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