A new state law passed last session helps keep small-scale urban beekeepers from being regulated out of existence by their own towns. A provision in the “Local Government Regulatory Reform of 2015” (House Bill 44) prohibits cities and counties from enforcing any ordinance or resolution that prohibits folks from owning or operating five or fewer beehives. The bill passed in the House and Senate roughly along party lines and this particular provision took effect on September 23, 2015.
The new law helps bee hobbyists like Pat Walker of Louisburg, North Carolina. In 2012, Mrs. Walker was facing 20 days in jail for violating the town’s ordinance on beekeeping. According to a city regulation, beehives had to be at least 75 feet from a neighbor’s property line.
Mrs. Walker responded that the ordinance was unfair and unconstitutional and North Carolina Beekeepers Association President Danny Jaynes called the city ordinance “ludicrous,” pointing out that Governor Beverly Perdue had beehives at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh that were just five feet from the property line.
“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”
― Henry David Thoreau
On the heels of the Walker case, the Town of Cary took up a resolution allowing the keeping of beehives on residential lots as a hobby (as opposed to an agricultural use). But the proposed regulations contained restrictions that some saw as objectionable.
The Cary Town Council considered rules to “create a new land use to accommodate the keeping of bees that would allow the practice in certain zoning districts; with a minimum lot size of 30,000 square feet; with a maximum of 1 hive per 10,000 square feet of lot area, not to exceed 8 hives; a 6 foot flyway barrier; and an on-site water supply within 50 feet of the apiary, or bee yard” — only to table the restrictive beekeeping ordinance following the public hearing where beekeepers spoke against the ordinance as being too restrictive.
House Bill 44 does allow cities to continue regulating beehives, but only in certain specific ways. City ordinances must allow up to five hives on any parcel within that city’s planning jurisdiction, although they may require the hives to be placed on the ground or securely anchored and they can require setbacks from the property line or otherwise specify where on the property the hives may be located. A city can also require removal of hives that are not maintained or, if necessary, to protect the public health, safety, or welfare.