Beekeepers want to take sting out of county law

Regulation classifies honey bees in same category as farm animals

Sherry Greenfield, Staff Writer, the Gazette Thursday, March 08, 2012

edmordan(Right) Ed Mordan of Woodsboro looks at a bee hive that did not make it through the winter at his home on Monday. Mordan and fellow beekeepers are opposed to a county law that places honey bees in the same category as cows, pigs and sheep. They are asking the Board of County Commissioners to revise the current zoning ordinance to allow beekeeping on less than 3 acres.

Beekeepers in Frederick County are seeking to take the pain out of regulations that limit them to keeping honey bees on properties that are 3 acres or larger.

The law, which places honey bees in the same category as cows, pigs and sheep, is unfair, according to some county beekeepers. They argue beekeeping requires less space than traditional farm animals, and are asking the Board of County Commissioners to revise the zoning ordinance to allow beekeeping on less than 3 acres.

“The law is stupid,” said Ed Mordan, president of the Frederick County Beekeeping Association. “The law says you need space for livestock. But with bees the size of the lot is irrelevant. I personally don’t think the zoning ordinance makes sense. Bees are entirely different.”

When county officials began updating the zoning ordinance several months ago, they were contacted by beekeepers concerned by the law, said Larry Smith, the county’s zoning administrator.

Smith also heard from neighbors living near beekeepers, asking the current law be maintained.

“We get [about] four complaints a year,” Smith said. “It’s about bees coming onto their property. These are people with medical conditions and they are allergic to bees.”

As a compromise, Smith said they are proposing the creation of a limited agricultural activity permit. Beekeepers looking to keep bees on less than three acres of property would need to obtain this permit. It is unknown how much the permit might cost.

Beekeepers also would need approval from the Frederick County Board of Appeals, Smith said.

After listening to concerns from members of the beekeeping association at a meeting March 1, the Frederick Board of County Commissioners said they would have a public hearing on the issue.

The Frederick County Planning Commission also will have a separate hearing. Dates for the two hearings have not been set.

Smith said neighbors living near beekeepers will be notified so they can weigh in.

John Kline of Mountaindale, which is outside of Thurmont, told commissioners at last week’s meeting his wife is allergic to bees and because his neighbor has bees she cannot use her backyard.

“This past summer we had as many as 40 to 50 bees in our birdbath,” he said. “There is plenty of open farmland around where they can take [their bees]. I’m against having bees in lots that are so small.”

Alan Winpigler is Kline’s neighbor, who keeps bees. Kline filed a complaint with the county against Winpigler for keeping bees on less than 3 acres of land.

Although there is a policy in place that restricts Kline’s beekeeping operation, the county does not police such activities. Therefore, Winpigler still has his bees.

“We try to keep them hidden,” he said. “I have a 6-foot fence. On the other side of the fence, I have 60 acres of open land. One complaining neighbor should not set the standard for all neighbors.”

Winpigler does not own the open land adjacent to his home.

He said he is not sure he will be issued a permit if the county grants exceptions for beekeeping.

“Who is going to give you a special permit when you have a neighbor hollering,” he said.

Beekeeping for honey, beeswax and pollinating fruits and vegetables is a popular hobby in Frederick County.

Mordan said the association has about 75 members. Mordan lives in Woodsboro — where there is no ordinance governing bees. He said he keeps three hives to harvest honey, which he sells at the Great Frederick Fair each September.

But Mordan cautions those interested in taking up the hobby. Between the costs and the worry about neighbors, beekeeping it not for everyone, he said.

To get started, Mordan said it can cost about $500 — this includes the bees, protective clothes and the box frame to contain the bees.

“The odds of all the bees making it the first year are about 45 percent,” Mordan said. “So you’re investing $500 and half are going to die. On top of that, you’re worried about the neighbors.”

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