Backyard beekeeping is on the rise, but when are hives and humans too close for comfort?
Some Clover residents want the York County Council to consider that question as it looks at how other jurisdictions have reconciled beekeeping with a need to protect residents from possible nuisances.
Until recently, the county staff cannot recall any complaints about beekeepers, said Dave Pettine, county planning and development director. But they also had no idea there are so many beekeepers in York County. The York County Beekeepers Association has more than 110 members.
To accommodate beekeepers, the County Council might change zoning rules, such as defining the number of hives allowed per lot size, requiring an adequate water source for the bees, locating hives away from property lines and creating a barrier around the hives to force the bees high into the air.
The discussion results from a complaint by Clover neighbors who said a residence with two backyard hives was a nuisance.
Residents said bees collected by the dozens on floatation devices in swimming pools, and the bees made it impossible to enjoy their front porches. In one instance, a children's soccer party had to move indoors because of the bees, residents said.
Some residents say they were stung.
A house next door to the bee hive is for sale. The owner said the bees have affected buyer interest.
Fifty residents signed a petition saying they are against the residential hives.
County leaders said the residents' complaints are reasonable.
"I can't say in a neighborhood setting that this is the place for honey bees," Councilman David Bowman told the neighbors at a Feb. 7 County Council meeting.
To avoid further controversy, the backyard beekeepers have moved their bees to a nearby farm.
A growing trend
There's been an increase in beekeeping across the state and country, said Mike Hood, a bee specialist with the Clemson University Extension.
"It's a result of the problems nationally we've had with our honeybees" such as "colony collapse disorder," Hood said.
With one-third of the food people eat dependent on insect pollinators - and with honeybees pollinating 80 to 90 percent of those crops - a decrease in honeybee colonies is a problem. Concern over those losses has interested people in beekeeping, he said.
Beekeeping is allowed in York County on agricultural and rural properties only.
County leaders have said that many beekeepers have hives in residential areas, where lots range from less than a quarter-acre to many acres.
If beekeepers have been operating in residential areas without complaint, maybe the county should rethink the rules, county leaders have said.
But changing the law could come with new responsibilities.
On Monday, some county council members will look at other beekeeping practices during a zoning committee meeting.
In Castle Rock, Colo., several residents came to the city council, asking it to lift a ban on bees that had been considered a nuisance, said Mary Shaw Taylor, the city's zoning manager.
Now, the city allows for two hives on any residential lot as long as the hives are located a distance from the property line and there is a 6-foot barrier around the hives, forcing the bees up if they leave the hive in droves.
It's too early to tell the effect of the new rules, she said.
Howard County, Md., is also considering allowing backyard beekeeping as long as certain conditions are met.
Some of those requirements are easier to evaluate than others, such as allowing hives as long as they don't interfere with neighbors' quality of life, said Cindy Hamilton, division of public services and zoning for Howard County.
"That's going to be an interesting test if someone complains," Hamilton said.
Whether York County is up for such tests is the real question, Pettine said, especially since the county only investigates when there is a complaint.
There are some practical things that can be put in place to allow for backyard beekeeping, he said, "but is the council going to be comfortable making those changes?
"We'd have to be prepared to know what it takes to enforce best practices."
Educating new beekeepers is crucial, said Hood, who decided not to keep his bees on his home property in part because his neighbors had pools, he said.
York County has one of the most active associations in terms of offering classes frequently, he said.
They are classes "all beekeepers need to take because we teach them responsible beekeeping, and one of those areas is to be a good neighbor."