Bees

Lancaster city residents could be licensed to keep bees under a proposed ordinance discussed Monday at City Council’s committee meeting.

Many cities are becoming more welcoming toward beekeeping, senior planner Douglas Smith said. By joining them, Lancaster could help restore bee populations affected by colony collapse disorder, he said.

The details are still being reviewed by the city’s legal counsel, so council doesn’t plan to introduce the ordinance formally until May 22. If it does so, a vote could take place June 12.

Under the proposal, licensed beekeeping would be allowed in any part of Lancaster. Properties could have two rooftop colonies, plus two more colonies per 2,000 square feet of lot space.

A colony consists of a queen, thousands of worker bees, and drones in late spring and summer. Beekeepers tend them in wooden hives that Smith described as “the size of three or four shoeboxes.”

The tentative plan is for licenses to last two years, the same as Pennsylvania’s apiary licenses, Smith said. A state license costs $10; the city’s draft ordinance does not include a license fee.

City health officer Kim Wissler said she’s investigated several complaints of neighbors keeping bees, but invariably found the beekeepers’ practices were “immaculate.”

After several such experiences, she concluded it would make sense to legitimize beekeeping to protect and encourage beekeepers, she said.

People fear being stung, but honeybees aren’t aggressive unless they’re threatened, she said. In her career, she’s encountered a swarm in the city only once, she said.

Some cities’ ordinances require prior notice of proposed hives, giving neighbors a chance to object. But most urban hives don’t cause problems, Smith said, and there’s a risk that “unnecessary alarm” would undo the ordinance’s purpose.

“I think that’s something for council to wrestle with,” he said.

Depending upon hive orientation and the distance from neighboring properties, the ordinance could require beekeepers to have flyway barriers, which direct bees upward, away from people.

There's been talk of a beekeeping ordinance in Lancaster since 2016. For the city, allowing beekeeping would fit in with the rest of the city’s efforts to become greener and promote environmentalism, Smith said.

“The more bees, the merrier,” he said.

In other business, council heard from chief of staff Matt Johnson that the city is developing policies and looking into technology to allow the livestreaming of council and other city meetings.