Janesville backyards got an environmental and agricultural boost in 2015 when the city council decided to allow residents to raise chickens within city limits.

Environmentally minded residents might soon have more options for sustainable living if proposals covering backyard beehives and compost piles become city ordinances.

The sustainable Janesville committee has discussed both policy ideas for nearly two years, Chairman Aaron Aegerter said. Now, they’re almost ready to be presented to the city council.

“Every city is including major sustainability plans in all their decisions,” he said. “This allows for small-scale residents to do what they can to support nature and get more in touch with the environment right in their own backyard. It does encourage a more smaller, practical application.”

The compost ordinance cleared its first hurdle Monday by passing the plan commission, 4-2, with Jens Jorgensen and Carl Weber dissenting.

The proposal will move to the city council next month.

The compost ordinance would allow for backyard compost piles located at least 5 feet from property lines and at least 20 feet away from neighboring buildings. The piles are an environmentally savvy way to dispose of grass clippings, garden vegetation and produce, Aegerter said.

Composting natural materials can turn them into fertilizer. Throwing them into the garbage does not benefit the environment because landfill soil is tainted by trash.

“This way, you’re not filling it into another contaminated landfill. Usually, the chemicals and other breakdowns of plastics makes that soil unusable if you’re planning on using it for your garden soil,” Aegerter said. “But it’s more than just soil. It’s a really rich fertilizer that can increase health and yield of vegetables and flowers.”

The compost ordinance originally was part of a larger idea to transform backyard landscaping, which would have given residents more freedom to plant prairie grasses and flower gardens. The committee split the proposals to prevent complications, and it plans to continue working on the landscape policy in the coming months.

As for the beehive ordinance, the committee is still finalizing details. It has taken time to thoroughly examine bee allergy concerns, Aegerter said.

The ordinance likely will have minimum height rules for barrier fences—which would raise the bees’ flight path—and require an on-site water supply to discourage bees from leaving the yard.

Aegerter stressed that these hives would be for honeybees, which tend to be much less aggressive than yellowjackets or other wasps.

Some Janesville residents already keep bees. Enacting an ordinance would help regulate that activity, he said.

“We feel it promotes more pollination of flowers within the community and an opportunity for city residents to grow their own food,” Aegerter said. “The bees are under pressure with colony collapse disorder. We’re hoping to encourage more honeybees to help sustain their populations in case it gets worse.”

The committee based both the ordinances on similar policies in peer communities. The compost proposal could reach the council later this month, while the beehive ordinance would likely be introduced sometime in early 2019, Aegerter said.

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