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Beehives could be permitted on downtown rooftops

Some say more urban beehives won’t stem the decline of honeybee colonies in North America, while others hold out hope they will.

CAROLYN KASTER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Some say more urban beehives won’t stem the decline of honeybee colonies in North America, while others hold out hope they will.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2015 (1534 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After telling backyard beekeepers to buzz off, the City of Winnipeg is considering the idea of permitting downtown highrise hives.

On Thursday, city council's downtown development, heritage and riverbank committee asked city staff to figure out how to amend downtown zoning regulations to allow beehives to be placed on rooftops.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi championed the idea after the Fort Garry Hotel came forward with a request to give bees a home 10 storeys above Broadway.

"Talk about local food -- it's right above you, as in, your hotel room," Gerbasi said after she and Couns. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and John Orlikow (River Heights) voted to give city staff until September to study how other cities accommodate rooftop beehives and draw up an amendment to the Downtown Winnipeg Zoning Bylaw, which governs downtown land use.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2015 (1534 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After telling backyard beekeepers to buzz off, the City of Winnipeg is considering the idea of permitting downtown highrise hives.

On Thursday, city council's downtown development, heritage and riverbank committee asked city staff to figure out how to amend downtown zoning regulations to allow beehives to be placed on rooftops.

U of W beekeepers check on a hive. At right, a jar  of honey produced by the rooftop bees.

COURTESY MELISSA DUPUIS / UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG

U of W beekeepers check on a hive. At right, a jar of honey produced by the rooftop bees.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi championed the idea after the Fort Garry Hotel came forward with a request to give bees a home 10 storeys above Broadway.

"Talk about local food — it's right above you, as in, your hotel room," Gerbasi said after she and Couns. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and John Orlikow (River Heights) voted to give city staff until September to study how other cities accommodate rooftop beehives and draw up an amendment to the Downtown Winnipeg Zoning Bylaw, which governs downtown land use.

Currently, beekeeping within city limits is restricted to agricultural areas and is forbidden in commercial and residential areas. Exceptions are made for educational institutions such as the University of Winnipeg, where apiarist Melissa Dupuis operates the only legal rooftop beehives in the city's downtown.

As recently as 2013, Winnipeg turned down a request to relax urban beekeeping regulations. At the time, an administrative report warned bees could pose a threat to people with allergies, could diminish property values and might lead to an increase in mosquito-fogging buffer zones. Now, the city's insect control branch, the animal services special operating agency and Mayor Brian Bowman's office are all more amenable to the idea of urban beekeeping, Gerbasi said.

Placing bees well above street level — not to mention the reach of malathion-fogging trucks — removes potential problems, said James Patterson, a registered apiarist who appeared before city councillors Thursday on behalf of the Fort Garry Hotel.

He said few problems are reported with honeybees in Winnipeg despite the presence of an estimated 100 hives in the city, operating either illegally or grandfathered under earlier legislation.

Patterson said the Fort Garry hopes to follow in the footsteps of hotels in other cities where rooftop hives are already permitted. Pending a city zoning amendment, four or five hives will be placed on the hotel's roof. The harvested honey would be served to the hotel's guests, he said.

A jar of honey from one of the bees hives that is on the rooftop at the University of Winnipeg.

A jar of honey from one of the bees hives that is on the rooftop at the University of Winnipeg.

Rooftop beehives serve an educational purpose by connecting consumers to the source of their food, he added. "This creates a stepping stone to understanding urban agriculture."

Rooftop hives would be a boon for rooftop and backyard gardens in central Winnipeg, said Allan Campbell, president of the Manitoba Beekeepers' Association and the owner of Durston Honey Farms in Dauphin.

A few more urban hives won't, however, reverse the decline in honeybee colonies underway in some parts of North America, he said, noting the main threat to bee health remains an invasive, parasitic mite called the Varroa destructor, which carries a virus that can kill off entire colonies.

Honeybee production is also threatened by the declining diversity of vegetation that results from agricultural practices such as planting primarily one crop over a vast area — often, canola in Manitoba — and the loss of native vegetation, Campbell said.

"Everyone's going out and spraying off the ditches and mowing down roadsides and waterways and taking out the native pollination," he lamented. "When the canola's blooming, it's great. We also have the dandelions in the spring. And that's it."

Other beekeepers said they believe more urban hives can make a difference to bee populations in the long run.

"I think every bee counts," said John Russell, vice-president of the Red River Apiarists' Association and the operator of the John Russell Honey Company. "I think this (rooftop proposal) is an opportunity for hobbyists to get involved in an urban setting and they might set up hives elsewhere."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Friday, May 8, 2015 at 6:22 AM CDT: Replaces photo, updates with full writethru

9:05 AM: Adds sidebar

9:56 AM: Corrects day to Thursday. Flux capacitor was not working.

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