Hobby beekeeping in Waco might become a little easier if a city advisory board gets its way.

The Animal Welfare Board voted to recommend the city remove its honeybee ordinance from the city code, deregulating hobby beekeeping and allowing residents to keep bees anywhere. If the city moves forward with the board’s recommendation, neighbors with complaints about dangerous or unruly bees would still have recourse through the city’s nuisance animal ordinance.

Waco’s bee ordinance now requires consent for hives from all neighbors within 300 feet of a beekeeper’s residence. Waco and Lubbock stand alone in requiring neighbors’ consent for a hive, Assistant City Attorney David Shaw told the board during its last meeting.

“The way ours works, anybody within that territory can veto you having honeybees,” Shaw said. “And unlike livestock variances, there’s no appeal process.”

Waco’s ordinance is “bare bones” compared to the rules in other Texas cities that regulate honeybees, he said.

“The issue is that neighbors move,” Shaw said. “You’ve got the consent of your neighbors, you’ve got the honeybees, you’ve made the investment, you’ve kept them alive through the winter, but then someone moves out, someone else moves in, and suddenly your honeybees are illegal.”

Around the state, Fort Stockton and Temple effectively have citywide bee bans, while other cities regulate the kind of equipment a beekeeper can use. Fort Worth and Austin regulate the number of hives a beekeeper can keep based on lot size, but most larger cities have no bee-specific ordinance, Shaw said.

“Across Texas, most towns of 50,000 or greater do not have a single thing to say about honeybees,” Shaw said.

The board also talked with local beekeeping groups about helping educate residents about bees. Heart of Texas Beekeepers Association President Gary Bowles said his group can help teach about bees’ behavior and what to expect if a neighbor is keeping hives.

“If they’re concerned, we can tell them what it’s all about,” Bowles said. “Some people have just had no exposure at all, and it’s all new to them. We can give them that information.”

Even a responsible beekeeper could end up in a situation where their bees are a nuisance to neighbors, but his association teaches members how to work with neighbors to avoid confrontation and the importance of respecting the wishes of neighbors with bee allergies, Bowles said.

“We tell our members to get with other members and get a backup lot out of town,” he said. “If you get a complaint, that night take it over to your backup spot. It relieves a lot of concerns.”

Bowles said it is not uncommon for hobby beekeepers to maintain hives stealthily for years without anyone’s knowledge, but it is a beekeeper’s responsibility to maintain a hive and prevent bees from becoming aggressive.

“Sometimes it requires ‘re-queening’ the hive to get it to the proper disposition, but that’s going to take a responsible beekeeper,” Bowles said. “Everyone has to use common sense.”

He said bees are less likely to wander if they have access to adequate food and water. Dry conditions in summer can encourage them to search for food farther from home, making them more likely to wind up in neighbors’ yards.

“If the beekeeper knows where they’re getting water, you know they won’t be in your neighbors’ swimming pool,” Bowles said.

Above all, Bowles said it is important for newcomers to the hobby to join groups like his association, so they can learn from more experienced beekeepers who can help them navigate the hobby’s challenges.

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