By Vanessa McCray
TRAVERSE CITY — There's a growing buzz in Traverse City.
Beekeepers want to house honey bee hives in city yards, where rules prohibit apiary activity.
Talk to Kima Kraimer, and she'll extoll the virtues of the wee-winged wonders — their sweet honey, pollinating powers and how small-scale beekeeping aims to maintain healthy colonies. But, she struggles to find the exact words to explain why beekeeping attracts her interest.
"For me, there's something really magic about a beehive and there's something really--special is a light word--really touching about working with a hive, and part of it is their collective love for the queen," she said.
Kraimer leaves her Slabtown neighborhood to drive to an out-of-town farm to tend her two hives. She'd like to care for the bees in her own yard.
She and others believe the city should relax rules banning hives. The Traverse City Planning Commission tentatively scheduled a bee discussion for its Sept. 19 meeting and is taking a cautious approach to a proposal that could cause debate to drone on.
The group first wants "more data and information," said Planning Commission Chairman John Serratelli. That includes research of the pros, cons, benefits and "possible hazards" of city beekeeping, said Planner Russ Soyring.
The proposal is "a good idea," said Sleeping Bear Farms' Kirk Jones, a Beulah beekeeper.
"The honey bees will provide pollination through the whole neighborhood, and they are relatively harmless," Jones said. "It's only when you are within pretty much a few feet of the hive, that's when they are protective."
Restrictions could take the sting out of a swarm of potential concerns. Rewritten city rules could limit how many hives each household or neighborhood can have and require beehive registration, Kraimer said.
Proponents said other cities allow beekeeping within their borders.
Ann Arbor has had on its books since 1976 a simple rule allowing residents to keep no more than two hives. No permits are required, and no restrictions related to distance or density of hives are spelled out, said Ann Arbor's Communications Director Lisa Wondrash. City officials haven't received "a single complaint or question" about the rule in the past eight years, she said.
A recent resurgence in beekeeping prompted other cities to consider new rules and attracted more members to the Michigan Beekeepers' Association. Terry Toland, president of the East Lansing-based association, said hobbyists make up most of its membership. More people want to get involved after media attention focused on colony collapse disorder, which threatens agriculture and healthy hives.
City-dwellers have embraced beekeeping, even at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria New York. The glitzy New York City hotel keeps bees, and its chefs use the honey, Toland said.
"That's how popular it has become," he said.
Careful consideration should be taken if the city crafts new rules, said Millie Hathaway, who, with her husband, runs Great Lakes Bees located north of Suttons Bay.
"I feel for the people who want to keep bees," Hathaway said. "I think they should have the right to, within reason."
She anticipates opposition to allowing hives in neighborhoods. City beekeeping could "be quite successful," she said, but success requires attentive, trained beekeepers who act as good stewards.
"Bees are wild creatures. They will go wherever they go, and they will go into everybody's backyard if they have flowers," Hathaway said.
It's important for beekeepers to provide a fresh supply of water, Jones said. That's one of the suggestions he offered for urban beekeepers. Compact neighborhoods could have fewer hives than larger, more-open greener areas. Beekeepers with nearby neighbors also could be encouraged to put up a fence or bushes to direct bees to fly up and out of the way as they enter and exit the hive, Jones said.
The sharpest point of contention may be sting concerns. Several experts said honey bees are, well, sweeter than wasps, hornets or yellow jackets.
Those insects give honey bees a bad name, said Kraimer, who called honey bees more "docile and passive."
"The bee sting for a honey bee is its last resort. It will bump into you first," Toland said.
Beekeeping in Slabtown doesn't alarm the neighborhood association's President Mike Gaines. In 2009, Traverse City changed its animal ordinance to allow residents to keep up to four hens, and Gaines hasn't heard clucking about that.
"The sky has not fallen with chickens in town, and I don't think there's going to be cataclysm if people keep honey bees either," he said.