More and more Americans are realizing just how critical bees are to pollination of everything from nuts to fruits to vegetables, even as most of us also acknowledge certain societal concerns when beehives are not appropriately or prudently maintained within city limits. And so we’re happy to see Waco City Councilmen Jim Holmes and John Kinnaird smartly press for a city ordinance that frees beekeepers of overly restrictive ordinances or outright bans while still safeguarding our neighborhoods in the bargain.
As Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer Rhiannon Saegert reports, the Waco City Council last week was poised to scuttle a 2013 ordinance stating 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.” The problem is that a single cantankerous neighbor complaining to the city can force a beekeeper to either relocate or get rid of his or her beloved bees at any time.
The matter came to the attention of City Hall in May after local beekeeper Kimberly Barrett and her husband sought a variance from the city’s Animal Welfare Advisory Board when 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. Since then, the city-charged animal welfare board has voted unanimously to recommend repeal of the ordinance after city staff gave a presentation on beekeeping ordinances in different municipalities.
During last Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilman Holmes said the existing ordinance was indeed onerous in that it essentially required consent of all neighbors within 300 feet of a beekeeper. Yet, he said, he also didn’t want to simply scrap any ordinance to the degree some insensitive lout of a beekeeper might take the liberty of setting up a hive in his front yard or next to a school (a highly unlikely prospect). To that end, the council sent the matter buzzing back to the animal welfare board to use its expertise to fine-tune an ordinance in regard to nominal distances and “fly-away barriers.”
The council and the Animal Welfare Advisory Board are to be commended for their thoughtful, ecologically minded and balanced tenor in this matter. At a time when bees are in steep decline globally (thus placing many popular agricultural crops in question, especially blueberries, cherries and almonds), communities here and there could do with a few more bees so long as the hives are properly maintained and the concerns of neighbors are always taken into account. This logically should include neighbors teaching their children not to aggravate bees and especially their hives — something bees will intently defend. And as Stephen Daywitt, vice president of the Heart of Texas Beekeepers Association, told Saegert, it sure wouldn’t hurt beekeepers to sweeten matters by occasionally sharing honey with the neighbors: “If you’re going to keep bees in town, you need to share.” It’s an example that might improve contentious matters in so many other realms.