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Murray Journal

Bees yes, chickens no in Murray

Dec 01, 2016 04:10PM ● By Tyler Warren

The ordinance to allow beekeeping passed, but some bee proponents were unhappy. (Tyler Warren/City Journals)

By Tyler Warren | [email protected]

It was an issue that hounded the Murray City Council for years. After multiple surveys, open houses and public hearings, residents finally have their answer. Beehives are OK on low-density residential properties. Chickens are not.

Almost three years ago, the council requested the Community and Economic Development Department prepare a draft ordinance for the keeping of chickens and bees on residential properties. However, it soon became apparent that there was no clear consensus among residents over the issue. So the proposed ordinances sat. 

The ordinances were finally put to a vote on October 18. They would allow non-commercial keeping of chickens and bees on low-density residential lots over 8,000 square feet. There were similar restrictions placed on the number of hives and chickens per lot size, and a $100 licensing fee.

While not unanimous, support for allowing beehives was strong. 

Stephen Stanko, a representative from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said that many cities along the Wasatch Front have loose beekeeping ordinances without any significant problems. 

“Nationally there are about 52 incidents with significant mortality from insect stings,” Stanko said. 

Many in the pro-bee crowd took issue with what they saw as redundant enforcement measures and an excessive permit fee that would lower rates of compliance. 

Tim Tingey of the Redevelopment Administration rejected the notion that the city was somehow duplicating work. 

“We’re talking about a zoning ordinance. The county and state are not going to enforce land use regulations at all,” Tingey said. Therefore, he explained the permit fee was necessary to recoup those costs.

But even after the ordinance passed by a 4-1 vote, some bee proponents made their displeasure known.

Albert Chubak owns a beekeeping supply business in Murray. He was one of the residents who stormed out of the chambers after the council made their decision. Chubak’s issue isn’t so much with the $100 fee, but with technical elements of the ordinance. 

One of his concerns was the requirement of a barrier along the outside of the property, which he claimed would do nothing to deter a bee in search of food. He also had a problem with the insurance component, beekeeper’s certificate and building requirements. 

Chubak saw the ordinance as harmful to his business.

“My first thought was to move. Then I realized as an educator, the onus is on me to inform the city,” Chubak said.

Like with bees, arguments in favor of chickens were centered on sustainability, education, and self-sufficiency. One of the points brought up by chicken supporters was that there were plenty of chickens already living in the city. “You’re going to create a lot of law abiding citizens tomorrow if you pass this,” said Adam Deason.

Others were adamantly opposed to the idea of allowing chickens on residential properties.

The council recognized that more of their constituents were opposed to chickens than bees. Many of these concerns centered around the nuisance chickens could create in neighborhoods. Some raised concerns over smell and noise, and the effect they could have on health and property values. There was also the concern over the disposal of unwanted chickens, which Tingey said the city did not currently have the resources to take care of.

Abby Potter, who was following the meeting on Murray City Live, felt so strongly that she left her home in her pajamas to add her comment.

“I am one of the complaining neighbors who have had chickens by my house,” Potter said. “The amount of flies we had overtaking our yard and our neighbors yard — you couldn’t even sit in the backyard in the summertime. The smell was agonizing. It created such a problem … that we couldn’t even enjoy our own environment anymore.”

In the end, the concerns of residents opposed to chicken keeping convinced the council to hold back. The motion to pass the ordinance died on the floor for lack of a second.

Tim Tingey said the city is still dedicated to enforcing ordinances as they are. 

“We’ll still enforce the current ordinances as we get complaints and are made aware of these situations,” he said.