CONYERS — Following changes to a proposed beekeeping ordinance that were agreeable to those on both sides of the issue, the Rockdale County Planning Commission unanimously approved a motion recommending the Board of Commissioners (BOC) approve the ordinance. The action came at the commission meeting on Jan. 14.
Tanner G. Barr, a planner in the Rockdale County Planning and Development department, said while the ordinance was developed to “help the county better promote beekeeping as a viable economic opportunity for residents and even industry leaders looking to expand operations east of Atlanta,” the state of Georgia “blocks jurisdictions from prohibiting beekeeping outright and does not offer any regulations regarding where beekeeping activities are allowed, leaving the door open for residents to maintain hives virtually anywhere.”
The proposed ordinance would restrict honeybee hives to parcels zoned W-P, A-R, and R-1 that are 15,000 sq. ft. or larger in land area. It also placed other restrictions on beekeeping for the protection of the public in general.
But the ordinance met with opposition from members of the East Metro Beekeepers who live in Rockdale County. David Shipp wrote in a letter to the Citizen that “This ordinance has wording that restricts beekeeping to only AR and R1 zoning, but the restrictions in those zones would kill the bees... East Metro Beekeepers and various other groups will be fighting this anti-environmental ordinance. As beekeepers, we believe in being good neighbors and certain restrictions on hives is understandable.”
Barr heard the concerns of the beekeepers and worked with them to update the ordinance and make it more agreeable to all involved. Barr advised the Planning Commission about the updates.
“One of the biggest components that was opposed was zoning restrictions,” Barr said. “In this ordinance before you tonight, we have eliminated those zoning restrictions, and instead, are relying on square footage restrictions. The minimum square footage requirement is 10,000 square feet, which is around 1/4 acre. From that point, every additional 5,000 square feet, there can be two more hives.
“The second thing was the flyover barrier requirement. It is basically a fence built around the beehive. This is more common in urban and denser environments where you have neighbors right on top of you. It is done mainly to protect the hives and promote training the bees to fly higher and quicker as they approach the hives. However, because of the humid environment and the seasonal changes in Georgia, the flyover barrier does pose a risk to damaging hives by increasing the amount of shade on hives, and most beekeepers in Rockdale County have enough land on their property to really forego that requirement.
“The last thing is removing certain landscaping requirements. In the original ordinance we had requirements to have both plants that are native to Georgia and pollinator plants. We’ve removed those requirements because they were opposed. We want to be good stewards and good public servants.”
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Shipp thanked Barr and other members of the planning staff for listening to the concerns of beekeepers and changing the ordinance to make it more workable.
“We appreciate the county working with us and us working together in a collaborative effort to make sure that this is a workable ordinance, so that we can be good neighbors as beekeepers, and be good environmentalists to help the environment keep all your gardens pollinated, your fruit trees pollinated, and to provide honey for those of us who suffer allergies,” said Shipp. “I do support this ordinance as currently changed and written.”
One beekeeper did express concern about a limitation on the number of nuclear hives (hives formed by splitting larger hives) and time limits when they are permitted remaining in the ordinance, and said it could be interpreted to being in violation of Georgia law concerning beekeeping.
Barr explained that usually nuclear hives are done in the spring, and that the clause in the ordinance is there to give beekeepers a chance to split nuclear hives in the winter months to protect against winter losses, as well as in the spring.
It was also noted that the county attorney reviews all ordinances and makes sure they are not in violation of state law before their final reading and approval.
The Planning Commission then unanimously approved a motion to recommend approval of the ordinance. The ordinance will go back to the Board of Commissioners for a zoning public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 9 a.m. That meeting will be held in the county auditorium.