Will Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Club get stung on beehives?

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Since last year, the Duquesne Club has been creating quite a buzz with its rooftop beehives. Now it could find itself in a honey of a predicament with the city.

City officials say the exclusive Sixth Avenue club, long a haven for the region’s business elites, hasn’t gotten the zoning variance and permit it needs to keep the four hives on its sixth- floor roof.

After receiving a call to its 311 response center last week about the situation, the city sent building inspectors to the private club Monday to check out the apiary.

If the hives are not operating in accordance with city zoning laws, they may have to be removed until the club comes into compliance, said Sonya Toler, Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman. That likely will require obtaining a variance from the city’s zoning board of adjustment.

Ms. Toler said the Bureau of Building Inspection mailed a written notice of violation to the club Tuesday directing it to make the proper application to the zoning department. She declined to say what action, if any, the club would have to take regarding the existing hives until it has received the notice. The city typically does not make a notice public until it is in the hands of the owner involved, she said.

Under the city zoning code, a variance is required to house animals, including honeybees, in Downtown. Katie O’Malley, spokeswoman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said apiaries are not permitted in the Golden Triangle without one. A permit also is required, she said.

In the case of the Duquesne Club, it does not appear as if it has either, Ms. O’Malley said.

The club always intended to get the variance and permit but first wanted to see if the hives would be successful before committing to them long term, executive chef Keith Coughenour said Tuesday.

“The plan was to see how it worked,” he said. “We didn’t even know if they would survive up there.”

When building inspectors visited Monday, they gave no indication that the hives would have to come down, Mr. Coughenour said. Now that the club has decided to keep the apiary, it intends to get the required city approval, he added.

He and Steve Repasky, president of the nonprofit Burgh Bees group, said the city ordinance that regulates beekeeping doesn’t specifically state that the approvals need to be obtained before any hives are installed.

But that was news to Corey Layman, the city’s zoning administrator. “There’s no provision that gives you a trial run on zoning requirements,” he said.

It will be up to the bureau of building inspection to decide whether the hives should be removed, Mr. Layman said. The club may not have to if it is in the process of applying for the variance, he stated.

Mr. Repasky said he advised the Duquesne Club to try the hives first to see if they were successful before getting approval for the variance, a process that he argued can be expensive and time consuming. He added there was little harm in waiting.

“The site they have now is six stories up. Those bees aren’t bothering anyone,” he said.

Mr. Repasky said he also has been counseling would-be beekeepers in other parts of the city not to apply for permits because the ordinance is under review and may be changed.

He added the majority of people who had gone before the zoning board to get approval to keep bees were being denied for “random reasons.” He argued that the better approach for those interested in raising bees is to talk to surrounding neighbors to see if they have a problem with it and take it from there.

The Duquesne Club currently is the only Downtown business raising bees. Dubbed Hive 325 after the club’s street address, the honey produced by the bees is sold to its members and used in desserts, main courses and even cocktails.

Each of the four hives has a copper roof and eight honeycombed shelves. The first harvest of nearly 40 pounds of honey came this spring, although the club has had hives since last year.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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