Cuyahoga Falls -- City Council on Sept. 12 unanimously approved amendments to the general development code to expand beekeeping regulations to allow the breeding of bees for honey in residential and commercial areas.
The legislation spells out the number of hives a person can maintain, distances from adjoining properties, features of the hives, acceptable barriers, and other rules. Planning Director Fred Guerra said that beekeepers must immediately meet all the requirements, except the regulations dealing with the number of hives on a property; in that case, beekeepers will have three years to become compliant.
On Sept. 12, the measure was sent back to committee for further discussion before the vote.
A required 30-foot setback from all public rights of way, which had been recommended by three experts, was removed from the final legislation approved Sept. 12 after concerns and questions arose.
"We found there could be some cases that 30 feet would be too great if you live on a corner lot," Guerra said. "We had one case [Bill Tompkin, at the corner of East Portage Trail and Muroe Falls Avenue]. We looked at it and felt we could reduce that in a way that is consistent with the code."
Guerra said the "fair way" to address the issue would be to refer to the city's setback table, which allows a 10-foot side yard setback on corner lots.
"I'm concerned about the variation," said Councilman Vince Rubino (D-1). "I'm wondering how going from 30 feet to 10 feet is [fair]. That doesn't sound like it's in the middle to me. Fifteen would be in the middle." Rubino asked if a resident could apply for a variance.
"That could be done. I don't have a problem with that," Guerra said, adding "anybody can get a variance, but you have to show [evidence of] a hardship. In this case, there could be a hardship." He said he is aware of only one beekeeper on a corner lot.
Council President Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2) said she wants to be sure Council "was legislating what is best for the city, not an individual."
Prior to the vote, the amendment stated, "No hive shall be kept closer than 15 feet to any lot line or 30 feet to any public right-of-way." In the final version approved by Council, it states beehives must be a minimum of 15 feet from all lot lines.
Tompkin said he has had beehives for 10 years. "I've not had any problems with my neighbors or people who walk past The reason I don't have problems with my neighbors is I take care of them. I give them honey and we're all friends."
Tompkin said he has four hives, each hive housing a peak number of 50,000 to 80,000 bees. He did not recommend requiring any beekeepers to move their hives in the summer time when bees are active. Moving a hive just 3 feet can cause the bees to become disoriented and drift off their normal course, he said.
"I hope that you're not thinking that all of this work is just for me, because it isn't," said Tompkin. "Beekeeping and bees are very essential to the foraging and pollination of a lot of plants."
"Bees are important, I get that, but my [4-year-old] son's life is worth more than a bee," said Kara Farkas of 1650 16th St.
Following the Sept. 12 Council meeting, Bob Gallagher, of 1645 17th. St., said not everyone would be happy with the decision to allow urban beekeeping, but he was "really happy and glad that this was resolved. Gallagher, who currently maintains three hives, said six years ago he told his neighbors he was starting an apiary and no one voiced any objection. "Somehow, two years later, a couple of them changed their mind," he said.
Farkas' property is located behind Gallagher's.
A police report filed Aug. 6 by Gallagher stated he found a number of his honeybees dead and he suspected someone poisoned them. The report said his financial loss was estimated at $200. Police later said the case was closed as Gallagher declined prosecution.
During a public hearing on Sept. 6, Farkas said she is in favor of the beekeeping ordinance. She and her neighbors "for many years" complained to the city about bee hives in her neighborhood, she said, and while city officials acknowledged the hives were illegal, "for whatever reason, they refused to enforce the current ordinance."
According to city prosecutor Matt Dickinson, prior to the passage of this amendment, there were not sufficient provisions for beekeeping in rural or urban areas.
"There was not enough information in the code to clearly guide the city's housing and zoning officials or people who wanted to keep bees in any part of the city," Dickinson told the Falls News-Press on Sept. 14. "Without adequate provisions in the code, prosecution for violations or unsafe bee keeping practices were not sustainable."
During a public hearing Sept. 6, Guerra explained since 2005, the city was only allowing beekeeping as an agricultural business or a farming operation in RR-Rural Residential districts or in the NP1-National Park District. Before 2005, beekeeping was allowed as a conditional use on rural lots, 5-acres or more, in R-1 Districts.
Until recently, the city did not receive a lot of "bee questions," Guerra said. Last year, the city's Law Department and Planning Division received several complaints and inquiries about urban beekeeping, he said. "Based on these complaints and inquiries, it was decided to amend the General Development code to allow beekeeping on single-family residential lots and in E-1 Employment Districts," he said.
Additional language says, "Bees shall only be kept in the rear yard, except in rural lots where bees must be kept behind the front and side setback lines." It also states, "a solid fence or dense hedge known as a 'flyway barrier,' at least 6 feet in height shall be placed along the side of the beehive that contains the entrance to the colony and shall extend at least 2 feet on either side of the hive. No such flyway barrier shall be required if all beehives are located at least 30 feet from all property lines, for beehives that are located at least 10 feet above grade or for beehives with the sole opening pointed towards the residence of beekeepers."
"A supply of fresh water shall be maintained in a location readily accessible to all bee colonies on the site throughout the day. This water source must be closer than any other water source not owned by the property owner."
The new amendment bars the breeding of Africanized bees and requires compliance with all Ohio Department of Agriculture rules and regulations. A copy of the certificate of registration from ODA must be posted on or near the hives.