St. Albert residents may soon find the city abuzz with the sweet sound of honeybee hives in backyards across the city.
Council unanimously approved a motion directing administration to develop the policies and bylaw amendments that would be required to allow beekeeping in the city, with a budget of $15,000. Those proposed changes are expected to come back to council for debate by the end of June this year.
Coun. Cathy Heron, who brought forward the motion, said while she knows there might only be a small group of residents actually interested in keeping bees that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard, and unless there’s a legitimate reason to prohibit beekeeping it should be allowed.
She said not only do bees thrive in urban environments on account of the diversity of flowers available in yards, and said ultimately this move would be keeping in line with the Botanical Arts City brand St. Albert has developed.
“We want to create this culture in St. Albert that embraces green building and local food production that is not harmful and is not intrusive to your neighbours,” she said.
She said she understood some people might be concerned about safety, but noted bees are already in the city, whether there’s an organized hive in a backyard or not. She also said the yellow-jacket hornets are the aggressive stinging insects that cause the most problems.
Coun. Sheena Hughes proposed an amendment to the motion that would specify the proposed changes would be a one-year pilot project, but that amendment was defeated.
Coun. Tim Osborne said he felt making it a pilot program with strict regulations, as was done in the case of the city’s backyard-hen pilot project, could make it needlessly difficult for residents to take part. Regardless, he said without the information about proposed changes administration would provide, it would be premature to say this should be a pilot project.
Hughes said she would support the motion despite her amendment being voted down, but would look “very, very carefully” at the recommendations with an eye to ensuring public safety.
She said she knows of people who have significant concerns about bees as it relates to their allergies. For example, she referred to family members who cut down all the flowering fruit trees in their yard upon moving in to try to mitigate their risk of bee stings.
“There’s some people that have life threatening issues with these,” she said.
Osborne said he understands that concern, as he also has a family member with a deadly bee-sting allergy who has to carry an epinephrine injector with them at all times.
Nonetheless, he said he would want council to make a decision based on the recommendations of administration, which would ultimately be based on research of the best practices from other communities and the actual documented risks involved.
“I would want to understand what is the actual risk and not the perceived risk,” he said.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said he himself has been hospitalized as a result of a sting, and as a result has a good understanding of the risks from different species of insects, and would be supporting the motion.
Resident Mike Killick spoke to council about the proposal, saying while he’s supportive of the idea of urban beekeeping as a one-year pilot project, he balked at some of the items in the rough budget estimate administration provided to council.
In particular, he said he was “shocked” to see $5,000 in the budget for training courses, when courses required in Edmonton to get a beekeeping permit cost $250, and a more advanced course at NAIT costs only $325.
“I hope the city can do the work for this bylaw significantly cheaper than is estimated,” he said.