When the members of South Pittsburgh Development Corporation started thinking about what could be done with the vacant property at the corner of Jacob and Whited streets in Brookline, they decided to think outside of the box.
Way outside of the box, actually—they're thinking more inside the hive. The organization has proposed an urban apiary, or beekeeping community, for the site.
“This is something the community has taken an interest in and wants to learn more about,” SPDC member Nathan Mallory said during a meeting Monday. “We’d like to be part of something in Brookline that has opportunity to get widespread demographic, help with rebranding, be progressive and new.”
The idea isn’t so unusual in Pittsburgh—the first community apiary in the country is located here.
Burgh Bees, a Pittsburgh-based association of urban beekeepers, opened an apiary about two years ago at a vacant, one-and-a-half acre site on Susquehanna Street in Homewood.
In addition to 25 honey bee colonies, the site also hosts gardens of flowers, flowering trees and vegetable patches. The hives are maintained by several master beekeepers through Burgh Bees, as well as dozens of community members who either keep hives or volunteer their time at the site. The site also is used for honey production, and is a point for school field trips and other educational sessions.
The site is an example of the message Burgh Bees founders—that about one-third of the food we eat is made possible by the pollination process of honey bees, and that communities can flourish by participating in this common goal.
“We’re utilizing empty, vacant lots. Prior to us taking occupancy of (the Homewood) lot, it was just a vacant spot where tires were thrown, and garbage. It was a point for criminal activity,” said master beekeeper and Burgh Bees founder, Steve Repasky. “Burgh bees came in and cleaned up the site … That’s a large educational center for us. It brought usable green space to community.”
Honey bees work well in neighborhoods because they are most friendly of all bees, Repasky said. They are the least likely to sting—they only do so in defense of their colony—and they die after stinging once.
They are not the same species as the more vicious yellow jackets or wasps, he said, and they are not the same species that create “killer bee” swarms. Although swarming can occur, honey bees swarm to collectively find a new home, not to attack. And besides, he said, it’s the purpose of beekeepers to prevent swarming in the first place.
Burgh Bees also has a production site at Pittsburgh Zoo.
SPDC, in conjunction with Burgh Bees, wants to create a similar site at the corner of Jacob and Whited streets. The property is owned by the city of Pittsburgh, but was leased to SPDC about four years ago.
“We don’t have any money to build a park there. We can’t build a swimming pool,” Mallory said. “We’ve been hitting that roadblock for years.”
The apiary, though, would mainly be funded by Burgh Bees. Community donations would be accepted, but no part of the project would be funded by residents’ tax dollars. Mallory said both the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and the Brookline Area Community Council have endorsed the project.
SPDC has submitted a zoning application to the City of Pittsburgh that, if granted, would allow honey bees to be kept on the site.