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Bee battle lands at planning board
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County’s planning board wants a little more time before making a decision that could affect local beekeeping.

In a 4 -1 vote Tuesday night, the board agreed to postpone its recommendation on proposed changes to the county’s unified development code.

The changes would allow beekeeping in all of the county’s zoning districts, as well as adjust the code’s definition of church.

Board member Joe Moses voted against the measure.

During a public hearing on the changes and others, Sheri Hand shared with the board her concerns about neighbor Nicholas Weaver’s beekeeping practice.

Hand said she was the person who filed a complaint in August against Weaver, whose property is across the street from her home.

The action sparked debate over the county’s definition of livestock and whether honeybees were included in it.

Hand said she and her neighbors have been bombarded by the flying insects, which she thinks don’t have an adequate water supply.

"My grandson is extremely allergic to bees and has to carry an epi pen in case he is stung," Hand said. "A bee sting can be fatal … with the number of bees I have in my yard, he could easily be stung more than once, possibly many, many times."

Hand estimated that Weaver is keeping some 250,000 bees.

She said the bees became more of a problem in the past year or so, after Weaver removed a water fountain and replaced it with a birdbath. The bees likely came to her property searching for water.

Moses thanked Hand for bringing the issue to the county’s attention in August.

"I don’t want us to overreact one way or another," he said.

Moses then cited U.S. Department of Agriculture figures that showed only about one or two of every 1,000 people are allergic or hypersensitive to bee or wasp stings.

"The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight," he said. "This means that although 500 stings could kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1,100 stings."

Weaver said he takes several steps to ensure his bees don’t disturb neighbors, including providing a water source.

He also said homeowners associations can restrict beekeeping.

"I don’t think we should restrict one person’s rights based on another person’s use of their property," he said. "I think this is a bad idea. I don’t even know if it’s legal."

He went on to say that 75 percent of swarms die within the first year and that clipping a queen bee’s wings can prevent them from bothering neighbors.

Bees are vital for crops and the economy, he said, and their populations are dying.

Board member Pam Bowman noted the county is having growing pains as it transitions from rural to urban "and this is all part of the growth."

"This is what happens when you have growth like we have," she said. "It’s going to continue."

Weaver said he wouldn’t object to certain restrictions she suggested, such as requirements for water sources and that beekeepers register with the county.

Other residents on both side of the issue also expressed their concerns.

In other action Tuesday night, the board unanimously approved recommending county commission approval of proposed changes to the UDC regarding water and sewer requirements, the definition of septic tanks, timber harvesting and home occupation permits.