PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Beekeeping is becoming a hobby for more and more people.
William Slater and his son Aaron recently took beekeeping classes and decided to keep two hives in their backyard. However, Jim Saldo owns and maintains the lot next door and he's got a serious allergy to them.
The Slaters are asking the city's permission to have two colonies of bees in the back of the Burke Street home and say Saldo has nothing to worry about. Saldo, however, is contesting the special permit needed saying it would create a danger.
"I try to get along with my neighbors. I've done work with them and have gotten along pretty well. I don't want confrontation," Saldo said. "But right now I don't feel comfortable mowing or weed whacking."
The Slaters have already brought the two hives to the property and the plan to keep them in the southeast corner of the yard. There the bees will enter and exit the hive by a vacant, wooded lot to the rear. The hives will be protected by an electric fence, mainly for bears, but the bees will be able to roam free. They said there are bushes and the property drops in elevation, which raises the height the bees will fly.
"It is well within the confines of our property," William Slater said, adding that the location in that corner is ideal.
The honey bees they are raising are reportedly non-aggressive and only attack to protect the hive. William Slater said Saldo has a greater chance of getting stung by any other bee than the ones they are raising.
"Unless you went over and banged on the hive with a hammer you don't get stung," he said, later adding, "You have as much chance of getting stung just mowing your lawn from the bees that are pollinating."
Saldo, however, says it is more than just a nuisance allergy. He said it is well documented through medical records and plus, he has a heart arrhythmia. His cardiologist told him not to use an EpiPen unless it is a last resort. A bee sting requiring the use of an EpiPen will likely trigger the arrhythmia, he said.
While the bees may be non-aggressive in nature, Saldo doesn't trust the introduction of 120,000 of them — 60,000 per colony — being next to his property. Saldo doesn't live on the property but is there often maintaining the land.
The Slaters say the distance is sufficient.
"We chose this spot here because there is nothing around it," William Slater said, adding that Saldo will still be 70 feet away from the hives at all times. "It is not like it is next to his house."
Saldo said the pair brought the hives out to the yard on Sunday, May 7, and raised the question to the city's permitting coordinator, Nate Joyner. The city doesn't get a lot of beekeeping requests, but it does require a special permit.
Because of the rarity and uniqueness of the situation, the Zoning Board of Appeals was somewhat at a loss for what to do with that permit request. On Wednesday, it decided to delay a decision and will visit the site to get a better idea of the location and concerns.
A family on Westminster Street received the approval Wednesday to raise up to six chickens in their back yard and faced no objections.
Maria Saldana has a chicken coop in her back yard and in April the city was made aware that she didn't have a permit. She had to remove a rooster from the property and has since applied for the needed permit.
"I have just six chickens," Saldana said.
The ZBA heard no objections and approved the permit with conditions that the number be limited to six, that there is no meat production — just eggs and pets — there be no roosters, the coop is not less than 10 feet from the property line, the coop should be secured, the waste is taken to a sanitation facility or used as fertilizer, feed be stored in secured contained, and the board reserved the right to have another hearing and rescind the permit if other issues arise.
Also on Wednesday, the board approved a solid fence for a Hillcrest Avenue property, which would be close to the property line. The board typically doesn't approve those requests but the topography of the land made it nearly impossible to move it farther from the road.
The request came from Joseph Berry who wants the 6-foot fence for privacy for his children. He said none of the neighbors had any concerns.
The edge of the home, however, was built before zoning laws and already imposes on setbacks. The back of the property has a steep hill, limiting the use of much of the property, and moving the fence further off the road in other places made entering and exiting the home difficult.
"I do have a problem with granting a fence in the front yard but I do think you have a unique situation where this is located," ZBA member Thomas Goggins, who questioned various locations on the land that would bring the fence off the road more but to no avail.
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