CONYERS — The first reading of an ordinance that will restrict where beekeeping and honeybee apiaries can be in Rockdale County was approved by the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners at their December meeting and will be heard by the Planning Commission on Jan. 14.
The proposed ordinance would restrict honeybee hives to parcels zoned WP, AR, and R1 that are 15,000 square feet or larger in land area. It also places other restrictions on beekeeping for the protection of the public in general.
While the first public hearing will be at the Jan. 14 meeting, David Shipp of the East Metro Beekeepers, which meets in Rockdale County, stated in a letter to the Citizen in December that the ordinance as written will “effectively eliminate beekeeping from Rockdale County.”
Tanner G. Barr, a planner in the Rockdale County Planning and Development Department, explained the purpose of the ordinance. Barr 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,” that 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.”
Barr said the idea of the ordinance is to restrict beekeeping to specific zonings in order to protect citizens from any danger.
“A more essential aim of the ordinance is to be able to regulate the location of honeybee hives as to not conflict with existing uses, and potentially place residents of the county in any sort of danger,” he said. “Although honeybees are known not to be aggressive, and very rarely result in serious injury, current state laws do not provide clear regulations on where hives can be permitted. This leaves the door open for potential issues.”
Under the “apiary ordiance,” honeybee hives would be restricted to parcels of a minimum 15,000 square feet in the WP (water protection), AR and R1 zoning districts. To prevent swarming, hives in R-1 are limited to maintaining at the most six colonies (or hives).
“There are also specific square footage requirements per colony,” Barr noted. “For example, you must live on at least 15,000 square feet in order to maintain two hives. For every additional 15,000 square feet, the maximum number of hives allowed increases. As to not impair honeybee hive activities in more rural pockets of the county, the square footage requirements loosen significantly at 45,000 square feet (1 acre).”
In addition to the zoning restrictions, Barr said that flyover barriers would also be required.
“This is so that honeybees are prompted to fly at higher altitudes and over people as bees travel to and from the hive, but also to prevent swarming,” Barr said. “Flyover barriers have proven effective in pushing bees to an altitude that keeps people and bees from crossing paths. This also ensures that property owners are the only people to have access to hives and creates visually appealing screening around hives.”
But Shipp, a former chair of the Rockdale County Water Authority, believes the ordinance will do more harm than good for beekeepers. In a letter to the Citizen he wrote:
“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.
“This ordinance is a complete disaster to freedom to use our property as we choose,” Shipp continued. “It is disastrous to the environment as two-thirds of what we eat comes from honeybee pollination. Good luck growing a garden or fruit trees in Rockdale. Several large companies — Snapping Shoals, Georgia Power, Marriotts, the Atlanta Airport, etc. — have honeybee hives on their property as they see the benefit to the environment. Our county commissioners obviously do not care about our environment.”
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at its Jan. 14 meeting and will vote on the proposal. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Rockdale County Auditorium. The commission is a recommending body only, and 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 also be held in the auditorium.