Neighbor’s complaint stings local bee hobbyist

By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

Debi Fuller jokes that it may be time to think about changing her first name to Debee.

The local beekeeper’s fight to protect and maintain her hobby hives has caused a buzz in the Town of Dover that could swarm beyond its borders.

After a neighbor complained about her three hives, resident Fuller has been contending with Racine County’s zoning board, which classifies bees as animals.

Fuller, who has been cited by Racine County officials, lives in the Eagle Manor subdivision on land zoned for residential use.

Dover’s local zoning – which follows county zoning requirements – stipulates bees are only permissible on township land designated for agricultural use.

Fuller plans to fight her citation in court.

“They’re archaic and out of place,” Fuller said of the county zoning requirements, which Town of Dover follows. “It’s quite clear that there are some verbiage issues that I plan to challenge. I feel that it’s very open to interpretation.”

After several go-arounds at the county level, Fuller said she hoped to have the issue resolved July 14, when she went before the Dover Town Board and requested consideration to not only continue – but grow – her hobby beekeeping practice from three to four hives.

While the town board sounded somewhat supportive of Fuller’s request to keep practicing her hobby on her property, all three board members Monday night essentially said the matter is outside their control.

Town of Dover has long synched up its ordinances to the county’s – a maneuver partially implemented because of the sheer legal cost of adopting individual municipal ordinances.

“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place, as are you,” Town Chairman Tom Lembcke said Monday night. “I think we should leave it up to the court system. We’re the lowest form of government.”

Town Attorney Peter Ludwig explained that any form of motion made at the town level essentially would be symbolic in nature.

“All it would do is make a statement,” Ludwig added. “(Racine County) holds the trump cards. They hold the power. We don’t have any legal authority as a town. Some towns have what are considered ‘village powers,’ but we’re not there yet.”

Supervisor Sam Stratton, meanwhile, said he feels compelled to follow Ludwig’s legal advice; but conceptually, he wants to support Fuller.

Stratton commented he will attend Fuller’s court case if it can be worked into his schedule.

According to scientists, bees are responsible for pollinating about a third of the food we eat, and Fuller said that is an important, often overlooked statistic.

“They’re good for more than just honey and wax,” Fuller said. “There are a lot of other reasons for having them.”

Lembcke, who makes his living as a farmer, said he agrees wholeheartedly with Fuller’s comments about bees.

“I grow vegetables and, without honeybees, I have nothing to sell,” Lembcke commented. “I can very much empathize. But let’s let the courts and the county settle this.”

Fuller said her preliminary court hearing is July 24 in Racine, and she intends to come to that meeting armed with paperwork.

“I want to protect my bees,” she said. “I’m committed to it. I feel this is worth fighting for. Shouldn’t we be bold about this?”