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updated: 9/1/2020 10:33 AM

Lake Villa beekeeper could feel sting of loss if village takes hives away

Court hearing on Lake Villa hives set for Sept. 15

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  • Willie Pilipauskas, a 31-year-old professional beekeeper, looks over a tray of bees and honey at his parents' home in Lake Villa.

    Willie Pilipauskas, a 31-year-old professional beekeeper, looks over a tray of bees and honey at his parents' home in Lake Villa.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

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.

Willie Pilipauskas keeps tall bushes between his bee boxes and his parents' neighbor's home in Lake Villa. The tall bushes encourage a high flight pattern for the bees, keeping them flying over nearby yards instead of through them, he says.
Willie Pilipauskas keeps tall bushes between his bee boxes and his parents' neighbor's home in Lake Villa. The tall bushes encourage a high flight pattern for the bees, keeping them flying over nearby yards instead of through them, he says. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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.

Willie Pilipauskas works on the bee colony he started at his family's Lake Villa home when he was 12.
Willie Pilipauskas works on the bee colony he started at his family's Lake Villa home when he was 12. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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.

Willie Pilipauskas, right, and his father, Dave, check on the bee crates behind the family's Lake Villa home Friday morning. Village officials say the backyard bees are not permitted.
Willie Pilipauskas, right, and his father, Dave, check on the bee crates behind the family's Lake Villa home Friday morning. Village officials say the backyard bees are not permitted. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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."

Willie Pilipauskas' hives create honey for his Willie's Honey Co.
Willie Pilipauskas' hives create honey for his Willie's Honey Co. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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?"