A thriving culture of backyard beekeeping in York County has flown under the radar of county officials - until recently, when one resident's honey bees became another neighbor's pool pests.
Now, the hive-dwelling pollinator is the subject of a controversy over who in York County should be allowed to keep beehives in their backyards.
Beekeeping is allowed on rural and agricultural properties, but not in residential areas.
Leah Clewley learned recently that her residential property isn't zoned for beekeeping after her neighbor, Brenda Lasche, lodged a complaint with county staff.
The bees are too close to Lasche's new in-ground swimming pool and have become a nuisance in her yard, she told the York County Council at its meeting Monday night.
They also create a liability if someone gets stung on her property, she said, although she agrees that bees have an important role to play.
"The world needs them, but they don't need them right off my fence," she said. "It's too much to ask of a neighbor."
Since Lasche complained, Clewley, who got her bees last summer, has moved her beehives from her acre lot to a farm about three miles from her home.
But the neighbors' conflict has brought to light a substantial beekeeping culture in York County and in residential areas. In fact, backyard beekeeping is nothing new to York County.
For 15 years, the York County Beekeepers Association - now with 110 members - has been teaching the community about the benefits of bees, member Eck Miller told the York County Council at its Monday night meeting.
They're also a part of a growing number of beekeepers across the country, even in metropolitan areas, they said.
Now, worried some are operating illegally, beekeepers are asking county leaders to change the zoning code to allow for backyard beekeeping operations.
The benefits of bees
Honeybees are "the most important, beneficial insect that we have," Miller said.
They pollinate fruits, vegetables, flowers and other plants and are crucial in producing much of the food people consume, he said.
Clewley, an avid gardener, said her kiwis and cherries have never been so plentiful, and her husband, Don, said he's enjoyed having so many butterflies in the yard - a result, he says, of the healthy ecosystem the bees enable.
Consuming local honey also helps reduce allergies, beekeepers say.
Supporters of backyard beekeeping operations, such as the Clewleys', argue that bees are not aggressive creatures, especially the "managed" ones, which are more "docile" than feral bees, Don Clewley said.
But the Clewleys, who say they are new to beekeeping, realize the most important thing is to be good neighbors.
They believe that with a few changes in their backyard operation, they might have been able to reduce or eliminate the nuisance to their neighbors.
Putting up a fence to block the bees' view of the neighbor's pool is one thing they could do.
Now that they've moved their bees, they want the county council to consider allowing beekeeping with reasonable restrictions in some residential areas, even if they aren't allowed to return their bees to their property, Leah Clewley said.
Most of all, they want to inform others of the benefits of the often misunderstood honeybee, which is sometimes confused with more aggressive stinging insects, they said.
On the radar
County leaders pledged to see if something can be done to help backyard beekeepers while still protecting residents from unwanted visitors.
Because residential lots range from 7,500 square feet to many acres, allowing beekeeping in residential zones is problematic, said County Manager Jim Baker. However, there might be a way to allow it on larger lots, he said.
And beekeepers need not worry, county leaders said.
The complaint against the Clewleys was the first county planning and development director Dave Pettine could recall, although other neighbors of the Clewleys have come forward since. Some were present Monday night.
Because the county only responds to complaints, county staff won't begin patrolling for zoning violations, Baker said.
"If there aren't any complaints, why would we seek it out?"