The city of Fairhope could be close to allowing citizens to keep honeybees and chickens in their yards and might welcome ride-hailing company Uber to the Eastern Shore. At the request of Councilwoman Diana Brewer, the City Council discussed all three issues at a work session July 27.
Brewer invited Daryl Pichoff and Darryll Dooley, members of the Baldwin County Beekeepers Association, as well as 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center educator and beekeeper Mark Wetzel to address the council about urban beekeeping. Wetzel cited research compiled by Louisiana State University’s AgCenter, which some municipalities have used as a basis for creating beekeeping ordinances.
The LSU study, titled “Model Beekeeping Ordinance for Louisiana Local and Municipal Governments,” includes definitions and hive registration requirements along with model rules about colony density, maintenance, fencing and inspections.
“By creating an ordinance, you take the liability away from the city because you say, ‘if you follow these rules, then you are allowed to have bees,’” Wetzel said. “There’s nothing in [the code] right now, and that’s why we need this.”
In addition to the rules stipulated in the model ordinance, it also states “domestic strains of honeybees have been selectively bred for desirable traits, including gentleness, honey production, tendency not to swarm and nonaggressive behavior,” characteristics that Pichoff and Wetzel stressed to the council.
Pichoff said studies have shown bee populations introduced into areas can help crop yields grow by as much as 35 percent. He also said contrary to popular opinion, bees are not naturally aggressive.
“You can stand next to a beehive without a suit on and as long as you don’t aggravate the hive, the bees perceive no threat and go about their business,” according to Pichoff, president of the Baldwin County Beekeepers Association. “Some people think every bee they see is going to sting them, and that’s just not true.”
Currently, the city’s code does not directly address beekeeping within the city limits. Council President Jack Burrell said the decline of honeybees in the country over the last decade is a good reason to pursue beekeeping in the city.
“It could be a potential catastrophe to our crops and it could cost the country billions in lost revenue from crops,” Burrell said. “Not only that, honey production used to be a staple in the city of Fairhope for decades and has recently been on the decline.”
Councilman Mike Ford asked about the dangers associated with so-called Africanized bees, also referred to as “killer bees,” which tend to show more defensive and aggressive characteristics than common European bees.
Africanized bees tend to sting in greater numbers than their European counterparts, but Pichoff said the state’s rigorous border tracking system has been able to keep the species out of Alabama. He also said having a locally strong honeybee population is a good defense against Africanized bee invasions.
“If these honeybees are in your yard, they are looking at your flowers or your garden,” Wetzel said. “They might even be looking at the water in your bird bath. But they are not looking for children to sting.”
The five councilors each signaled a willingness to approve a beekeeping ordinance, with Councilman Kevin Boone stipulating that the ordinance should not allow for a “grandfathering” of bee colonies. If the city experiences a problem with the ordinance, it should retain the right to remove all bee colonies, Boone said.
“Anybody who wants to do this will have to understand that it could end tomorrow,” Boone said. “But I don’t have a problem with it all.”
The councilors had a similar discussion about allowing citizens inside the city limits to keep chicken coops in their backyards for personal egg consumption.
“It’s just another type of gardening,” Brewer said. “I think this would be a good thing to do. A lot of people who raise chickens consider them just another pet.”
There was some concern among the councilors that an ordinance should specify that citizens could not keep roosters, just egg-laying hens. Councilman Rich Mueller said he did not have a problem with citizens keeping egg-laying hens in the backyards, but was concerned that some citizens might try to push the limits of what kinds of egg-laying animals they could keep as pets.
“I’m concerned about opening this can of worms and seeing what will come down the road,” Mueller said. “I don’t know about what other kinds of fowl or animals are out there with eggs you can eat. If you do this, someone will try to test this.”
Burrell said the ordinance could be written in a narrow, specific manner to keep citizens from testing its boundaries.
Following in the footsteps of the city of Mobile, the councilors also discussed allowing ride-hailing service Uber to operate in the city. The Mobile City Council passed an ordinance regulating Uber and other vehicle-for-hire services July 14.
Brewer told the councilors that Uber drivers are already allowed to bring riders from Mobile to Fairhope, but are not allowed to pick up riders in Fairhope. She said the current taxi service on the Eastern Shore, Bayside Taxi, can’t pick up riders across the bay and can’t originate from places like The Wharf or Pensacola.
“I think it would be good for us to be able to offer another transportation option,” she said. “Not just for people trying to get around town, though it would be good for someone trying to get home from a bar at 2 a.m., but more for getting people down to Gulf Shores for the night to have dinner, or to go across the bay.”
Burrell said he has used Uber in travels to other cities.
“The taxi business model is changing with the times,” he said. “I don’t know that Uber could sustain a lot of drivers here, but that would be for the market to determine.”