By the time next year rolls around, it could be legal for Oak Parkers to maintain beehives in their backyards.

Village trustees took their first look at a new ordinance on Monday, which would overturn Oak Park’s years-long ban on beekeeping. The majority of board members did not express opposition to the change, and will return next week to give it final approval.

Ray Johnson was the lone board member to express outright disagreement with the idea. He was compelled by local Realtors, worried that beehives scattered around town might make it more difficult to sell homes.

“Bees are important. I just don’t think they’re appropriate for this kind of urban environment,” he said. “And I really have been swayed by the arguments from the real estate community that they have concerns about marketing properties that are going to be next door or near these kinds of activities.”

Back in October 2010, the local board of health recommended that the village board allow residents to maintain beehives. Such a practice is currently considered a “nuisance” under village code, but Oak Park resident Debbie Becker (also a Wednesday Journal employee) has been pushing for the past couple of years to change that.

Supporters have argued that the change would be good for local gardens, an educational opportunity, and a way to make Oak Park “greener” by allowing people to make their own honey and wax here. On the other side, opponents have worried about the dangers to people with bee allergies.

Communities such as Evanston and the city of Chicago have already legalized beekeeping in recent years.

Provisions in the new ordinance would include charging $75 for an annual beekeeping permit, banning hives within 150 feet of residents who are allergic to bees, and having apiaries inspected once a year. Officials said that beekeepers will be allowed to keep their permits if neighbors who have allergies move within 150 feet later on.

Trustee Adam Salzman urged the village to start a public campaign so residents know that beehives will be sprouting up around town in 2012, and that people who are allergic should register with village hall.

“Otherwise, this is ineffective,” he said.

The village board is expected to give final approval to the new ordinance on Dec. 5, and the health department will start accepting applications for permits shortly after, according to Public Health Director Margaret Provost-Fyfe.

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