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Township abuzz

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:48 AM

Nash, a substitute science teacher for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, launched a beekeeping venture earlier this summer at his home in Strawberry Point, a quaint neighborhood of cottages dating back to the early 1900s.

But there’s a problem. The township has nothing on the books that allows beekeeping in residential neighborhoods.

“If it's not listed as permitted (in the zoning ordinance), it's basically prohibited,” said Township Community Development Director Lukas Hill.

But all of that may change as commissioners have been working on language to allow residential beekeeping. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at Spring Lake Township Hall.

The proposed ordinance change would allow up to two colonies. Typical hives measure about 16-by-16 inches and stand 3 feet tall.

But even if the Planning Commission recommends approval to the Township Board and the board concurs, Hill said he doesn't expect a swarm of applications – the required site plan review and special land use permit for beekeeping would cost $470.

Nash, who is the brother of Township Supervisor John Nash, moved two of his hives to acreage near Spring Lake High School. Bees are permitted in agriculture zoning. Under current ordinances, bees are considered “farm animals.”

Nash said his 130,000 bees produced close to 100 pounds of honey this season. He gives the sweet syrup away to friends and family members and sells it through the Health Hutt in Grand Haven.

During last week's heat spell, Nash's bees flitted about. The semi-retired science teacher said he feeds them sugar water this time of year because natural nectar is nil. As the temperature drops, Nash said his bee buddies will hole up in the hive and move around to keep the temperature warm enough to survive.

In the spring, the bees will once again begin their search for flowers and blossoms. They will travel several miles, according to Nash, and pollinate plants along the way.

“They could be helping a lot of people in the area,” said Nash, who first got the bug to become a beekeeper after reading about the collapse of colonies across the nation.

He hooked up with a beekeeping club in Holland and ordered some hives.

“These kind of bees have been genetically developed and bred to be gentle,” Nash said. “I love watching bees. This is a great opportunity to learn about the natural world.”

Planning Commissioner Russ Tiles has a bee's-eye view on the issue – beekeepers operate two hives on his West Olive community supported agriculture farm.

“I'm definitely in favor of (allowing beekeeping in residential districts),” Tiles said. “We've had hives at the farm for the last three years. We have stuff planted right up to the hive. The only time I've been stung was when a bee landed on the hoe I was using. I didn't look and put my hand over the top.”

Tiles said honeybees are not aggressive toward humans unless provoked.

“I have a bee allergy and I'm not concerned in the least,” Tiles said. “With well-maintained hives, there shouldn't be any kind of issue. With decreasing bee populations in the United States, it seems like a great plan. It's kind of like bringing agriculture back into the city. It benefits everybody.”

Hill said if the township were to allow beekeeping under individual “special land use” requests, it would likely be on an “experimental” basis.

“Certainly we want to make sure it's not a danger to somebody and if there is a nuisance, we have the opportunity to revoke a special land use,” Hill said. “But I think we're looking at this as something we're willing to look at.”

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