Homeowners in Lower Township — even on the smallest of lots — will be allowed to keep honeybees and produce their own honey.
Township Council had been faced with a bee dilemma of sorts since January when it was enforcing a law that requires one acre to keep livestock.
That issue was about a woman who was keeping chickens on a quarter-acre lot, but it raised the question of whether the one-acre rule also held for beekeepers.
The beekeepers wanted an ordinance spelling out their rights. The ordinance that council adopted earlier this week is considered a compromise because some beekeepers wanted more hives than it will allow while some residents wanted a more restrictive measure.
The New Jersey Beekeepers Association pushed for allowing three hives on a one-quarter acre lot. The local Planning Board had recommended one hive per quarter acre.
Council adopted an ordinance allowing two hives on one-half acre or less, three hives on one acre or less, four hives on two acres or less and no limit on parcels above two acres.
It’s a compromise between what the two sides wanted for smaller lots, but it is actually more restrictive for those with between one and two acres, for which there were no restrictions before.
Mayor Mike Beck said the council had to find a middle ground that promoted agriculture but also ensured public safety.
“It began with people diametrically opposed. We compromised. Nobody left completely happy,” Beck said.
That may not be entirely true. Fire Lane resident Robert Steele said he is happy. He followed the issue in January and figured bees would be allowed.
He took a six-week beekeeping course with his wife and children. In April, he put two hives on a small 75-by-120-foot lot that he owns on Misty Lane.
The bees immediately drew complaints from neighbors and without the new ordinance he would have had to remove them.
“What we’re doing is growing our own food, which is organic. We don’t want our children preoccupied with violent video games or television, and it puts food on the table,” Steele said.
Misty Lane resident Joan Doherty fought the ordinance as being too lenient. She said there are more bees flying around the neighborhood since Steele put the hives in.
Doherty said if there is no danger, then why do beekeepers carry medicine to counter an allergic reaction in case they get stung?
“I’m not against bees. I know bees are important. It’s not about bees. It’s about bees on small lots. I really believe you should live on the property,” Doherty said.
Steele said nobody has been stung and his office is in the Misty Lane house. He said he frequently inspects the hives.
The liability issue of potential court action if somebody gets stung and has a reaction was one of the issues council had to consider.
“I was out doing yard work, a bee was buzzing me, and I was considering who owned it,” said Councilman Walt Craig.
The final ordinance, Craig said, represented “a lot of compromise.”
Bill Eisele, president of the Jersey Cape Beekeepers, complimented council.
“We don’t agree with all of it, but it is a step in the right direction,” Eisele said.
Doherty said the ordinance is “asking for trouble.” She said a tree branch could fall on a hive, a car could hit one, or a bee could be attracted to a child drinking a soda. Doherty said she did not want “a bee ban,” but wanted more restrictions.
The ordinance not only specifies the number of hives allowed, but also controls their placement on a lot. They must be located in the rear yard, 15 feet from the property line and 25 feet from a public sidewalk, alley, street or road. A setback of 50 feet is required from places where the public congregates, such as public parks, schools and recreation areas. A 4-foot fence is required to prevent children and pets from coming in contact with the hives.
Apiaries must have an adequate source of water within 25 feet of the hives. The ordinance also calls for inspections, signage and registration of all hives with the state Department of Agriculture.
Much of the ordinance comes from guidelines put out by the New Jersey Beekeeper Association, which argued that there are more than 400 species of bees and wasps in the state, and most of the complaints about stings do not come from the domestic honeybee, which is not aggressive unless threatened.
Association President William Coniglio, in a letter Eisele delivered to council, argued three hives could be safely maintained on a quarter-acre lot.
“The honeybee has a long history of domestication. They are the basic foundation of the terrestrial food chain for man and wildlife and play an important role in the reproduction of flowering plant species,” Coniglio wrote.
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