Anyone interested in keeping bees in Riverside may have the opportunity to give it a whirl in 2017 after the village’s board of trustees on Aug. 18 voted 4-1 to create a one-year pilot program allowing beekeeping on residential properties.

The pilot program would cap the number of properties participating to 15, and the village will begin accepting applications on Jan. 1, 2017. If more than 15 homeowners express interest, a lottery will determine which applications are considered first.

However, the village board has delayed, for now, a vote on whether to also allow raising chickens on residential properties. Trustees felt they needed more information before agreeing to allow hens to be raised locally.

The decision to allow beekeeping did not come without dissent. Trustee Joseph Ballerine, the lone “no” vote on the ordinance, argued that beekeeping ought to be granted as a special use, which would have required a hearing process that comes with a $1,000 fee and a public hearing in front of the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission.

“This isn’t a natural occurrence of a hive in your backyard,” Ballerine said. “This is an active 65,000 [bees] in your backyard, so it’s not ‘natural.'”

Even without the special use process, the new law does require those who want to keep bees to notify immediate neighbors.

Ballerine also argued that if the village allowed beekeeping as a pilot program, which could be temporary, it could unfairly penalize responsible participants, who will have to spend a good deal of money to get their hives up and running in the first place.

According to the American Beekeeping Federation’s website, individual hives can cost more than $300 apiece, not including bee-handling equipment and the bees themselves. Riverside also plans to charge a $100 license fee annually for local beekeepers.

But Village President Ben Sells, who had to cast the deciding fourth vote because two trustees were absent from the Aug. 18 meeting, said the pilot program was in response to residents who are concerned about the practice of beekeeping in Riverside. 

“This is something new and there are people who have concerns,” Sells said. “It’s a good-faith effort to address that.”

Also voting in favor of the beekeeping ordinance were trustees Patricia Collins, Scott Lumsden and Michael Sedivy.

Other provisions of the new beekeeping law call for there to be no more than two hives on a property and that the hives be set back at least 15 feet from all property lines. Hives are also relegated to rear yards and can’t be visible from the street.

Beekeepers have to erect flyway barriers at least 6 feet high to deter contact with neighbors and make sure there’s a convenient source of water for bees. The ordinance also directs owners to “reasonably treat” their bees for varroa mites, a pest that can kill bee colonies.