The Waco City Council will vote Tuesday on scrapping the city’s restrictive honeybee rules, allowing hobbyists to keep backyard bees without permission from their neighbors.

The city’s animal ordinance states that “no person shall construct, place or maintain any beehive within 300 feet of any residence other than that of the owner except with the consent of the occupants of all such residences.”

That means a single neighbor complaining to the city could force a beekeeper to either relocate or get rid of their bees at any time.

The policy, in place since 2013, first came under scrutiny in May after local hobbyist Kimberly Barrett and her husband sought a variance from the city’s Animal Welfare Advisory Board after a neighbor complained about their hives. Under the ordinance, they had no choice but to sell the roughly $2,500 in hives and equipment they’d acquired over the course of six years.

“I’m glad to see that Waco is taking steps towards becoming more progressive and bee-friendly like so many other cities in our state,” Barrett said in an interview Monday. “I think this is a wonderful step in helping to better our world, not only for us, but future generations.”

The honeybee policy has effectively allowed neighbors to move in and nix hives beekeepers have kept for years. The couple approached city officials about the issue and later addressed the city council during a public hearing, presenting evidence that the policy is unusually restrictive for Texas cities.

Chief Building Official Randy Childers, who serves as animal board’s city contact, said the bee restrictions have been in place since at least 2013. That was a year the council did a major rewrite of the animal ordinance.

“I do not know of anyone who has any insight as to why it was added to the ordinance,” Childers said.

He said the animal welfare board voted unanimously in July to recommend repeal after city staff gave a presentation on beekeeping ordinances in different municipalities.

“Staff presented information at the animal welfare board meeting that several other Texas municipalities do not regulate residential beekeeping,” Childers said. He said even without the honeybee policy, the animal ordinance “allows swarming or mismanaged hives to be treated as a nuisance.”

Alvarado has a similar 300-foot ordinance based on consent, but this kind of regulation is somewhat uncommon. Austin and Fort Worth have detailed requirements for equipment and spacing, but neither ordinance makes any mention of consent. Temple’s bears a resemblance to Waco’s but is stricter, prohibiting any beekeeping within 300 feet of a neighbor, effectively outlawing it within city limits. Cities like El Paso and Houston do not regulate at all.

Animal ordinances in suburban cites such as Hewitt, Bellmead, Woodway and Robinson follow the city of Waco’s honeybee policy word for word. Those cities, which are customers of the city of Waco animal shelter, adopted animal ordinances similar to Waco’s in 2013.

During the meeting, the board also discussed leaning on local organizations like the Heart of Texas Beekeepers Association to help familiarize concerned neighbors with backyard beekeeping and bee behavior. Beekeeping associations are instrumental in bringing newcomers in and helping them navigate an often challenging hobby.

Hobby beekeeper James Fairchild said he thinks removing the ordinance is the right move.

“I think there’s a responsibility on the beekeepers to manage their hives well,” Fairchild said. “I think it’s great that we can keep bees at home, but I think there’s more responsibility there than with other livestock.”

Fairchild said proper maintenance includes diligently re-queening hives, capturing swarms, taking steps to prevent hives from Africanizing and treating hives regularly for mites.

“On the whole, this is good,” Fairchild said. “But I think there’s more to it than throwing bees in your backyard and letting them go.”

The council will also hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate for fiscal year 2019-2020 and a public hearing to adopt and approved the city’s budget and capital improvement program plan for 2019-2020 during business session.

The council will also discuss response times and services from American Medical Response and the Waco Fire Department during work session. Work session begins at 3 p.m. and business session begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Waco Convention Center’s Bosque Theater.

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