Bees in the city: Beekeeping residents to ask council to look at zoning code

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sarah Sounders keeps bees to make her own honey, soap, lotion, lip balm and beeswax candles for her family and home business in Kenai.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Sarah Souders inspects a frame of brood while maintaining her bee hives at a friend's house in Sterling. Earlier this summer, Souders' bees earned her a citation from the city of Kenai animal shelter for possessing "an animal other than a dog not restrained."

But this year, the beehives stored behind her house in the Woodland subdivision have become an animal control and planning and zoning issue that the City of Kenai has never dealt with before.

"I've never had a complaint from any of my neighbors, I've never been told anybody has been stung," Sounders said.

That changed May 18 when she received a citation from City of Kenai Animal Control that her bees were "an animal other than a dog not properly restrained."

"Her neighbors complained about the beehives she brings in every year -- the neighbors were concerned and they were getting stung," said Brett Reid, chief animal control officer in Kenai. "Basically she had too many beehives that were causing a problem."

Sounders said she appealed the animal control citation but then was given a cease and desist order from the city's planning and zoning department a short time later.

"They gave us 10 days to get the bees off the property or a $250 a day ticket," said Brandon McElrea, Sounder's boyfriend.

At that point, Sounders moved the hives out to Sterling, where she usually keeps them during the summer months anyway.

The bees "do better outside of town a little further away from water and not getting pesticides people spray on their gardens," she said.

The animal control citation was dismissed because the original complainant backed out of testifying after the hives were moved to Sterling, according to Krista Stearns, city attorney.

"To me that was a great development because the witness was happy with what occurred," Stearns said.

But the lack of a city code addressing beekeeping in residential areas has not flown away just yet.

Sounders and McElrea will be at the Kenai City Council meeting tonight asking city council members to consider adopting an ordinance that allows for residential beekeeping in city code, like one on the books in Anchorage.

In the Municipality of Anchorage, people in residential districts are allowed to keep bees as a permitted use, accessory to a principal use on the lot, as in a house, according to Angela Chambers, division manager of the Municipality of Anchorage planning department.

The code reads, "Colonies shall be managed in such a manner that their flight path to and from the hive will not bring them into contact with people on adjacent property." To ensure that, hives must be placed at least 25 feet from lot lines with common ownership, with entrances facing away from adjacent property, eight feet above ground level, or behind a fence at least six feet high that extends at least ten feet around the hive in both directions.

Beekeeping residents cannot have more than four hives on lots smaller than 10,000 square feet, according to Anchorage's code.

"This issue never really comes up," Chambers said. "Keeping honeybees or honey hives is no big deal," as long as residents sell their products elsewhere like at the Alaska State Fair, she added.

Rick Koch, Kenai city manager, said that without a specific code relating to honey bees, the issue currently falls under livestock.

Marilyn Kebschull, Kenai's city planner, said that it is not unusual for instances to come up that are not specifically addressed in city code.

Typically when something is not listed as land use in zoning code, like beekeeping, it is left up to conditional use, meaning planning and zoning could issue a special permit after a public hearing, she said.

However, Sounders has a business license in the State of Alaska, Sarah's Alaska Honey, a license she needs in the state to purchase lye for soap making.

In this case, Stearns determined Sounders use of bees to be agricultural, which is not permitted even conditionally in Woodland's suburban residential zoned subdivision, Kebschull said.

She said if Sounders keeps and harvests her honey elsewhere and then creates her products at her home in Woodland that could be considered a "home occupation" and could be permitted in the neighborhood.

But this does not solve the issue for Sounders next spring when her hives are stored temporarily behind her home.

The beekeeping issue in Kenai back yards is still buzzing.

The Kenai City Council will meet at 7 p.m. tonight in council chambers.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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