Don't Squeeze the Bees in Howard County, MD
Don't Squeeze the Bees
in Howard County
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Impact of the Howard County Zoning Interpretation on Beekeeping
Monday, April 5, 2010
A Closer Look at the Numbers

According to city-data.com, Howard County has a population density of about 1000 people per square mile. In acreage, that means each person in Howard County would occupy approximately 0.64 acres (there are 640 acres in a square mile).

Also from city-data.com, Howard County has an average of 2.7 people per household. This means that each household has an average of approximately 1.7 acres (2.7 people per household multipled by 0.64 acres per person is 1.7 acres per household).

The average of 1.7 acres per household is only half the space that the zoning law requires for a person to keep bees. This means the setback rule of the zoning law denies most residents in Howard County the ability to keep bees without being in violation of the zoning ordinance. This would eliminate almost all of the beekeepers in the county.

At the heart of the recent ruling by the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) of Howard County, Maryland is an interpretation that the definition of livestock includes honey bees and beehives (see page 23, section 77 of the Howard County Zoning Regulations). With this ruling, honey bees are considered "livestock" and beehives are considered "animal shelters". Current zoning laws requires that animal shelters be set back 200 feet from an existing dwelling on another lot when it houses or provides protection for animals (see page 238 of the Howard County Zoning Regulations).


To be in accordance of the 200 foot set back, a property containing a beehive would minimally require a 400 foot by 400 foot lot size (200 feet on each side of the beehive). A 400 foot by 400 foot lot equates to a 3.5 acres (if it were perfectly square). If you are a beekeper lucky enough to have a 3.5 acre square lot in Howard County, you would be able to keep honey bees on your property assuming you situated the hives in the exact center of your lot.

In addition to the setback regulation, certain districts of the county -- specifically the New Town (NT) district and the Mixed use districts (MXD) -- do not allow farming uses, so apiaries are not permitted in those districts, regardless of setback zoning laws.

For those less versed in zoning lingo, "the New Town (NT) Zoning District is the zoning classification for Columbia, an unincorporated, planned community located in Howard County, Maryland." (see reference here). Since the DPZ does not allow farming in the New Town district, beekeeping would be eliminated in the the entire community of Columbia.

Likewise, the DPZ defines Mixed Use zoning district in this manner:

The Mixed Use Districts are established to permit flexible and efficient use of large parcels at key locations by combining housing, employment, local commercial and open space uses in accordance with a unified design.

and

The MXD Districts provide for well designed communities which are compatible with surrounding neighborhoods and protective of the natural elements of the landscape. A Mixed Use Development is intended to include a planned network of open space which includes environmental areas, recreation areas, and public plazas or squares; a diversity of housing types at medium to high densities; and convenient pedestrian access between uses.

In practice, Mixed Use districts are mostly areas that once were farmland but are now turned into miniature, planned communities. Each Mixed Use district has a business center, a residential area and a common open area. There are several districts zoned as MXD throughout the county. An example is Maple Lawn, located in the south eastern portion of Howard County, near where MD Route 29 intersects with MD Route 216. It is sadly ironic that the DPZ states that MXD Districts are intended to be "protective of the natural elements of the landscape," yet the zoning interpretation bans beekeeping.

Of the 84 beekeepers in Howard County, over 92% of those beekeepers are backyard beekeepers with fewer than 5 hives. The overwhelming majority of the backyard beekeepers in Howard County have lot sizes much less than 3.5 acres. This means that the overwhelming majority of beekeepers in Howard County will be unable to keep bees due to the zoning law.

How can you get involved?
» Send an email to your county councilman
» Bee a fan on our Facebook page
» Join our bumper sticker campaign
» Want to become a beekeeper? Learn how!
References
» "Howard County Zoning Regulations" publication from the Howard County Department of Zoning and Planning (new ammendments effective April 6, 2010)
» "The New Town District" publication from Howard County Department of Zoning and Planning
» "Answers to Top 25 Questions About Planning, Zoning and Subdivision" publication from Howard County Department of Zoning and Planning

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