A Forsyth County beekeeper said Monday that he’s gotten a reprieve from the county after an official declared his insects were “livestock” and told him that he'd have to remove the hives behind his home.
Nicholas Weaver, who lives just outside Cumming, said in a phone interview with the AJC that he’s now working with a county commissioner on allowing honey bees in residential areas.
The dispute between Weaver and county code enforcement began in August when a neighbor filed an anonymous complaint, contending Weaver was violating county zoning codes by keeping eight hives behind his home in the Timberland Heights subdivision.
Weaver said that a code inspector “came out, looked at my bee hives and basically said I had to get rid of them.”
The beekeeper said that Tom Brown, the county’s director of planning and community development, had told him the county considered bees a type of livestock.
Responding to media inquiries, Forsyth spokeswoman Jodi B. Gardner on Monday emailed a prepared statement: “The Forsyth County Unified Development Code prohibits livestock raising in most residential zoning districts. The Unified Development Code defines livestock as domesticated animals for profit or personal use.
“Based on this, beekeeping is prohibited in most residential zoning districts. Beekeeping is permitted in agricultural zoning districts in addition to a few residential districts.”
Weaver said he asked University of Georgia entomologist Keith Delaplane – “the state’s foremost authority on honeybees” -- to write a letter on his behalf.
Delaplane did so, stating, “Honey bees are, without equivocation, not domesticated.” The insects kept in hives by beekeepers, Delaplane wrote, “are indistinguishable from honey bees that naturally nest, reproduce and pollinate in the wild.”
In other words, Weaver said, “they’re the same kind of bee you get out of a tree in the woods.”
Weaver started raising bees as a teenager and has had them for about a dozen years. He’s also active with the Forsyth Beekeepers Club, having served as a vice president of the organization.
At least 60 Forsyth County residents keep bees, according to club president Marc Conlyn.
“I feel like it’s a question of education. I don’t believe the people who made the decision are aware of just how important honeybees are,” he said.
In a phone interview with the AJC, Conlyn pointed out that the honey bee is so crucial to Georgia’s economy, it’s been designated the official state insect. It creates food for people – honey – and pollinates flowers, but even more importantly, “it pollinates 80 percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat,” he said.
Weaver said that he was prepared to appeal Forsyth County’s decision, but District 1 County Commissioner Pete Amos came to a recent Beekeeper Club’s meeting, “and he’s willing to work with us to change the development code. They want restrictions, which I believe is understandable, but I just hope they do it in a logical fashion.”
“What I’m going to is sit down with other beekeepers in the county, and we are going to write up what we think” and work with the county on new zoning language, a process that may take four to six months, Weaver said. “They’re going to let me keep the bees on the property while this issue is going back and forth.”
Forsyth’s statement said, “County officials have met with and are working with the beekeeping community on this matter. The Board of Commissioners plans to review the matter at a future work session.”
Meanwhile, Weaver’s backers have set up a Facebook page and have started an online petition to support him. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 800 signatures.
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