Willie Pilipauskas set up his first bee box colony under a tree in his parents' Lake Villa backyard when he was 12.
Nearly 20 years later, he's evolved from a bee beginner to a bee expert, and his colony has grown to a small apiary of 15 boxes.
But whether the Pilipauskas family will be able to keep the backyard bees has been in question since mid-July, when Lake Villa village officials served the family notice that the bees were not permitted.
Lake Villa Village Manager Karl Warwick said the village received a complaint from a neighbor who said the bee population was so large that a portion of the neighbor's backyard was unusable.
"We're just here to make sure people can use their property and enjoy their property, and if they can't, it's a violation," Warwick said.
Pilipauskas, now 31, lives in McHenry County with his own family but brings his kids to visit his parents in Lake Villa several times a week. The hobby that started in their yard is now a career: Pilipauskas manages 600 to 700 bee colonies in the Lake and McHenry county areas and makes his living selling honey and helping people remove bees from places they aren't wanted.
He wants to leave his original colony intact -- and has hired a lawyer. The first court hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 15.
Pilipauskas questions the village's claim that neighbors reported a problem with the bees.
He said the areas where his backyard bees would leave the property are near tall trees and shrubs. While the bees can fly over tall vegetation, he said, they rarely fly back down on the other side and prefer instead to stay high in the air.
Pilipauskas said he has great relationships with his parents' neighbors and often gives them free honey.
Joe Morrison, Pilipauskas' Waukegan-based attorney, expressed hope that a solution could be found.
"We're hoping to work things out with the village," Morrison said.
Warwick also expressed a desire for the two sides to work together on a voluntary, mutual resolution.
"I understand they're frustrated," Warwick said. "But that's how a lot of things happen in municipal government: You respond to a complaint and you work toward a solution."
The Lake Villa village code does not address beekeeping in residential zones. Pilipauskas said he hopes that changes so other kids can get into backyard beekeeping and find their passion as he did nearly 20 years ago.
"It seems like a weird time to be against it when there's so much interest in it," Pilipauskas said of beekeeping. "If you can have chickens and bees in Chicago, then what are we still doing here?"