Sunday, October 10, 2010

Let It Bee

Jane and I just returned from the 2nd Sunday Market in Old Ellicott City; plus a few loaves of bread and minus about $20.  I also had the opportunity to chat with some beekeepers from "Don't Squeeze The Bees," one of whom said "I'm sure you don't know who your council-member is, but...".

This issue has been on the periphery for me.  I've noticed the bubbling movement and the occasional bumper stickers that are beginning to be more prevalent than SAC United magnets...who are we kidding, no campaign will ever be as popular as SAC United.  However, after chatting with these knowledgeable, considerate, and dedicated members of our community, I thought the issue could use a little attention.

Sometime in early 2010 (Edit: 2008!), a homeowner came out of their house to see 30-40 bees flying around their air conditioner.  Bees, in their collective duty to make honey, collect water.  The condensation from the air conditioner had attracted these bees from a local beekeeper, which rightfully "concerned" the individual that stumbled across the miniature swarm.  It just so happened that this homeowner knew a zoning official better than he knew his neighbor beekeeper (and/or just set the zoning ball in motion), and hence the zoning board became involved in a neighborly dispute.  Since the USDA has defined bees as "livestock", the Department of Planning and Zoning saw fit to term boxes that sit about 3 feet off the ground "animal shelters", which is the same classification as those shelters that house cows and other farm animals.  Under the zoning regulations, these shelters require a 200 foot setback, which would be trouble for the amateur beekeepers of our County:
To be in accordance of the 200 foot set back, a property containing a beehive would minimally require a 400 foot by 400 foot lot size (200 feet on each side of the beehive). A 400 foot by 400 foot lot equates to a 3.5 acres (if it were perfectly square). If you are a beekeeper lucky enough to have a 3.5 acre square lot in Howard County, you would be able to keep honey bees on your property assuming you situated the hives in the exact center of your lot.

Said otherwise, this application of the zoning regs will put approximately 85 beekeepers in Howard County out of the beekeeping business.  The gentleman I spoke with was a computer programmer and said that for most beekeepers, this is their hobby, but one that they are serious about.  There are multiple other benefits to bees (i.e., pollination) and as noted in another post, bees that are not maintained by beekeepers are dying off worldwide.

So far, the beekeepers have two allies: Mary Kay Sigaty in District 4 and Greg Fox from District 5 (Note: Zaneb Beams has also come out with a pro-bees position).  Calvin Ball (District 2), Jen Terrasa (District 3), and Courtney Watson (District 1) have all refrained from coming out with a position on this issue.  However, should they be re-elected, the survival of beekeeping in Howard County will most likely be one of the first issues they address this winter.  I think we, and the beekeepers, have a right to know where they stand before we vote on November 2nd.  I would also encourage Reg Avery, Bob Flanagan, and Dennis Schrader to research this issue and let us know where they stand.

We talk a lot about the "quality of life" in Howard County, but these terms mean nothing if the County is going to arbitrarily quash an industry that so many people are passionate about.  Do not put form above substance.  Let it Bee.