Norwalk beekeeping restriction prompts emotional debate

Norwalk Beekeeping Feb. 24 2013 116
A Norwalk bee farm, in the front yard at 127 Silvermine Ave. Note the fence along the front of the property. The driveway is open.

NORWALK, Conn. – A regulation regarding bee-keeping in Norwalk was passed Wednesday night by the Zoning Commission in spite of comments from citizens who thought that it might not be needed and might not be legal.

The regulation to limit the number of beehives to two per quarter acre was inspired by a bee farm owned by Andrew Cote at 137 Silvermine Ave. The regulation will not affect Cote, who is grandfathered in. Commissioners said he currently has 16 beehives on his .23 acre property, described as the smallest farm in Connecticut.

Cote, who says bee-keeping is his sole source of income, was accused at the meeting of misrepresenting himself by a neighbor who said he didn’t really live on the property and that he had honey delivered to him.

Cote denied the allegations, but he had already spoken and wasn’t allowed to return to the lectern. His mother, Edith Cote, said that, although her son, the president of the New York City Beekeepers Association, has an apartment in Manhattan, he does live on Silvermine Avenue, going in and out a side door. He has lived there for years, she said, and hasn’t had the Manhattan apartment long. Another person said that Cote, as a farmer, rises early and goes to bed early.

Cote’s immediate neighbor, Jeff Hall, questioned the validity of the resolution.

“I’m sure it’s well meaning and I’m sure you may think there’s a problem, but I left for work early today. I found it difficult to convince my colleagues at Mount Sinai, my fellow scientists, that this was really a proposal,” he said.

There has been commercial bee-keeping in Norwalk for more than 300 years with no problems, Hall said. “As far as I know, one has a problem with the bees, they have a problem with the beekeeper,” he said. “That’s not really a matter for this body. … This would be an insane proposal. In a few years by plan the only type of produce that you would be allowed to legally buy from a commercial farmer in Norwalk would be medical marijuana. I don’t think that’s what the voters intended.”

Hall cited Connecticut zoning law and the Connecticut Right to Farm law, saying, “I don’t think you have the authority to determine livestock density.”

Commissioner Adam Blank said the regulation was researched months ago by committee members who contacted the Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota. “The professor led us down this crazy path, two hives per quarter acre,” he said. Commissioners modeled their regulation after one instituted by the city of Minneapolis, he said.

Diane Lauricella, an environmental activist, said “bees are important,” but “by having as many beehives as this site has, cheek by jowl is almost, they are increasing the potential for bee to human exposure. … I do think it poses a threat to the neighborhood because of the density of the industrial use of this bee-hive.” She wanted the Zoning Commission to consult with the health department.

Local farming is important, said Councilwoman Anna Duleep, a resident of the neighborhood, but there are people who are allergic. Duleep suggested getting the council’s ordinance committee involved.

Cote said that the way things were going, Norwalk might want to think about a ban on peanuts. “As long as a person doesn’t kick the beehive they are safe,” he said. “ … So few cities have (regulations) because they’re not necessary. Even New York City doesn’t have regulations.”

Commissioner Joe Santo suggested Cote could avoid problems with his neighbors if he conformed better with the neighborhood. “Your property looks dumpy,” he said.

Cote responded, “I thought we were talking about bee keeping, not how many buckets are on my property.” He later apologized and said he was on edge.

David Forslund said he had complained about Cote with the full knowledge that any zoning regulation that ensued would not apply to his neighbor and the farm he called a “nuisance.”

“I did not want to see this happen elsewhere in our city,” he said.

Lynn Detroy said Cote did a great job removing a swarm of bees from the First Congregational Church on the Green. She said his passion admirable.

“If the bees are happy and producing honey and it’s all organic, that’s only positive,” she said. “What’s negative is to have a neighbor who would start all of this, who is probably a neighbor I would never want to live next to again. I would rather live with three million bees than that person. The bees are not obscene.”


4 responses to “Norwalk beekeeping restriction prompts emotional debate”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    There are a few extremely important facts left out of the above story. Indeed there are roughly 16 or 17 hives on the property. What needs to be known is that each hive has at least 40,000 bees. Also, the property is small, and there are a number of hives very close to the street, about 12 feet away — there is no sidewalk. Many people, especially teenagers, would have no idea what those contraptions in the yard are for, and thus might disturb the hives. Though generally docile, honeybees will become quite aggressive when their hives are threatened. Also, bee stings can kill people with bee allergies. And finally, you left out the fact that the regulation only applies to residential zones. Two per quarter acre seems quite reasonable.

  2. Ottavio Forte

    There is at least one lie by Mr. Cole: he cannot live on the income from the profits of 16 beehives, the profits do not even pay for the the commuting gas from NYC. The other statement, a self-truth, he is the nuisance to the neighbors, not the bees for sure. His lot is as big as mine, I cannot see how he can shoe in 16 beehives and still have a garden for other activities, but then, he lives in NYC and uses the Norwalk house as a farm house, cluttered with farm implements and such. If that is the case I would sell the house and establish a bee farm in farmland in the suburbs, make a profit on the house and have a respectable bee farm with real profits. I am sure the Zoning Board put a lot of work in establishing the limits of two beehives per quarter acre, which is probably the maximum size of a city lot, some home owners would be limited to a fractional beehive. In doing so they have made more enemies than friends, the only friends they made are some of the abutting neighbors to Mr. Cole, but the new ordinance does not apply to eccentric Mr. Cole. No one else in the City, in their right mind, would have 16 beehives in their yard, not even four.

  3. […] NORWALK, Conn. – A regulation regarding bee-keeping in Norwalk was passed Wednesday night by te Zoning Commission in spite of comments from citizens …www.nancyonnorwalk.com/…/norwalk-beekeeping-restriction… […]

  4. Joe

    Jeff Hall is also guilty of prevarication. “Mt. Sinai Scientist”, indeed. He’s a mere computer programmer at Sinai. Fact-checking has to include at least feeding names into Google to verify puffery and grandiose claims.

    Weird how he is so supportive of Cote and his mash-up episodes of “Hoarders”, “This Old House”, “wild Kingdom”, and “Junk Yard Wars” just waiting to happen right next door to Hall’s own house… my guess would be that they are somehow related, something else to fact-check.

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