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Hillsborough may loosen rules on backyard beehives

TAMPA — Lauren Shiner's back yard buzzes to life each morning.

Amid the strawberries, tomatoes, antique roses and oriental lilies, tens of thousands of honeybees come and go from a yellow and brown box.

But until Hillsborough County commissioners change the rules to allow domestic honeybees in neighborhoods, Shiner and other backyard beekeepers are skirting the law.

Shiner, along with some bee experts, see plenty of upside to the hobby: They say backyard hives can help the species thrive while combating the spread of Africanized bees, which are more aggressive than beekeeper-monitored bees.

"Having managed honeybees that are out in the environment competing for the same resources helps discourage Africanized bees," said Jerry Hayes, a bee expert for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Because of supportive experts and hobbyists' impassioned pleas, the County Commission is considering rules that would allow beekeeping outside of agriculturally zoned areas.

Commission Chairman Al Higginbotham said he supports backyard hives.

"I think it is good for the environment, and it certainly helps with pollination of our native species," he said.

The proposal would allow a residential property of 10,890 square feet or less to have up to two bee colonies, according to a draft by county senior planner Tom Hiznay. The hives would have to be placed at least 25 feet from all lot lines. If there's a flyway barrier — typically a fence or dense hedge — between the hives and property line, the hives can be as close as 10 feet from the lot line.

But not everyone thinks bees are meant for the 'burbs.

There is likely to be some continued debate about the particulars of the legislation as backyard honeybees have their opponents. At Shiner's hive in Carrollwood, bees fly in and out of a box that rests about 8 feet from the property line and next to a fence.

"I've been the lonely voice of concern," County Commissioner Victor Crist said. "I have family that are very nearly deathly allergic to bees. I have seen what it means to them."

A 6-foot fence will not sufficiently limit the spread of the bees, Crist said.

"It's a hard sell to prove to me that raising thousands of bees in a highly urban environment is safe for the general public," he said.

While Crist said he is not entirely opposed to allowing managed beehives on residentially zoned land, he said there need to be significant barriers.

"If you want to go into that type of hobby, you're going to need a big piece of land," he said.

Before commissioners vote on the legislation, there will be an Aug. 10 workshop and then two public hearings.

In unincorporated Pinellas County, beehives are allowed only on three specific types of residential land. That prevents many homeowners having bees, said John Cueva, zoning manager for the Pinellas County Planning Department.

But, regardless of the legislation that might be passed in Hills­borough, many residents will likely continue to keep beehives.

"If you don't let us legally, we'll just go underground. Then you won't have any control," said Shiner, 56.

"I will have to tell you if you were going to tell me three years ago I was going to have bees, I would have thought you were a downright nut."

Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at enewcomer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Hillsborough may loosen rules on backyard beehives 07/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 16, 2011 9:46pm]
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