Published: Feb 21, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 21, 2012 10:52 AM
CARY - Forget backyard chickens. The town of Cary's official barnyard discussion topic for this week: honeybees.
At its Thursday meeting, the Cary Town Council will consider a proposal by town staff to explicitly allow the keeping of beehives on residential lots larger than 30,000 square feet, or about two-thirds of an acre.Hobby beekeeping, a practice unregulated by town ordinance, already happens in Cary neighborhoods large and small."We had some citizens who called and expressed concern about beekeeping that was going on near them - some were allergic, some had swimming pools" where bees gathered, said Rob Wilson, a town planner. "It's something that the ordinance doesn't clearly address."The proposed rule change would allow one hive per 10,000 square feet, and no more than eight per lot. At about 30,000 bees per hive, that's something like 90,000 bees allowed per two-third acre lot.The rule would outright ban the practice on smaller lots. It also would require hives be kept at least 25 feet from the property line, though bees will wander up to five miles in search of nectar and pollen.
"They sting in defense of themselves or in defense of the hives," said Andrew Currin, president of the Wake County Beekeepers Association. "When they're out foraging, they're more interested in the flowers than they are you."
The proposed ordinance also requires an on-site water source, to keep the bees out of neighbors' ponds, and requires six-foot flight-blocking barriers along property lines near the barrier, which would force the bees higher above the ground when they leave home.
All that hassle brings an environmental benefit, according to town planners and beekeepers. Honey bees pollinate plants by carrying genetic material between them."Without honey bees, they won't have fruits, they won't have vegetables, they won't have nuts," said Danny Jaynes, president of the N.C. Beekeepers Association.
Only a few North Carolina municipalities address backyard beekeeping in their codes, he said. One rural town's recent restrictive change rankled beekeepers, but Cary's proposed ordinance is reasonable, Jaynes said.
The appeal of beekeeping, according to Currin, comes from more than just the individual insects. A honeybee, after all, doesn't have quite as much character as a hen. The real challenge and joy is to help the whole hive thrive.
"If you're keeping bees, you're going to go out and watch them," he said. "You'll keep up with the different plants that they may be taking nectar from, you watch their comings and goings."The Cary Town Council is set to hold a public hearing to make a preliminary vote on the matter. If approved on Thursday, the beekeeping question next goes to the town's planning and zoning board, then back to the council for a final vote in May.
Councilman Don Frantz said the town's objective was to find a happy balance between beekeepers and the people next door.
"I think we're looking to see if we can allow folks to keep bees and do so in a manner that's thoughtful and considerate to neighbors," he said.
Mike Hillerbrand, a Cary beekeeper, said the town's proposed ordinance would bar him from keeping his three hives on his half-acre lot. He found the proposed restrictions too onerous.
"They're quiet, they don't smell, they don't make noise," he said as he watched his colonies. Two were quiet, while countless bees from warring colonies swarmed over the third, buzzing quietly as they battled for precious honey."It's a microcosm, it functions according to its own set of rules," said Hillerbrand, whose children also are fascinated by the hives. And while his neighbors were worried first by the bees, he said, their fear faded with time, and the family Plott Hound became the new object of neighborly ire.