New Jersey Law

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The Buzz About Beekeeping Regulations

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Across the garden state, more and more people are taking up beekeeping as a hobby. One could even say that apiary hobbyists are even beginning to “swarm.” Apiary idioms aside, this has been a positive development for both environmental and agricultural reasons. But it also raises concerns regarding how towns should deal with “problem” beekeepers. The purpose of this article is to discuss how beekeeping can be an issue for local government and to discuss how recent legislation has limited municipal oversight in this area. Finally, this article will discuss how new rules proposed by the Department of Agriculture represent a positive development in how towns can regain some say over how beekeeping activities are regulated.

To be clear, the vast majority of beekeepers are good neighbors and their keeping of bees does not negatively impact their neighbors or the quality of life in their communities. However, as in most general rules, there are exceptions. In reviewing the issue, there tends to be a couple of common complaints. First, bees need an adequate water source. If one is not provided, bees will look for one, oftentimes landing on a neighbor’s pool. Second, sometimes the sheer number of bees can become problematic. There have been instances of individuals keeping dozens of hives on relatively small lots. This becomes an issue for neighbors as hungry bees make a “bee line” searching for forage across someone’s backyard. Historically, towns have been able to enact ordinances to deal with these issues.

However, that local autonomy was preempted in 2015 when Governor Christie approved P.L. 2015, c.76 (Chapter 76). The touchstone of this legislation was beekeepers’ complaints about certain towns’ blanket prohibitions against beekeeping. This was a powerful argument in light of national concerns over dwindling bee populations. But rather than make such blanket prohibitions unlawful, Chapter 76 totally preempted local regulation of beekeeping and directed the State Department of Agriculture to adopt one statewide standard. Chapter 76 then authorized municipalities to adopt and enforce that standard by ordinance. Thus, from a purely municipal perspective, itis important that the Department’s regulations: 1) deal with the issues which municipalities will likely face regarding beekeeping; and 2) be clear cut and enforceable.

As discussed above, the Department has recently proposed rules pursuant to Chapter 76. Arguably, they meet both of the requirements listed above and even give municipalities some enforcement flexibility. The regulations impose necessary substantive requirements, like a watering requirement, on the keeping of bees. The regulations also set forth strict hive density requirements based on size and permitted use. The enforcement flexibility comes from the provisions which empower municipalities that have adopted the regulations by local ordinance, the ability to waive certain hive density requirements. For example, on a lot between one quarter (1/4) of an acre and five (5) acres, in a residential zone where agriculture is a permitted use, a beekeeper may have up to two (2) hives per lot. On a lot between one quarter (1/4) of an acre and five (5) acres, in a residential zone where agriculture is not permitted, no hives are permitted but a beekeeper may seek a municipal waiver for up to two (2) hives per lot. On a lot between one quarter (1/4) of an acre and five (5) acres, in a commercial zone where agriculture is not a permitted use, no hives are permitted but a beekeeper may seek a municipal waiver for up to ten (10) hives per lot. The New Jersey Beekeepers Association (NJBA) opposes these proposed rules. This is somewhat unexpected as the NJBA strongly pushed for Chapter 76 and its requirement that the Department supersede local decision making. While the NJBA prefers a “lighter touch” form of regulation, such an approach may be difficult for towns to enforce. Regarding the substantive requirements, the NJBA is proposing a form of regulation akin to how the Department enforces “agricultural management practices” for those activities protected by the Right to Farm Act. The association also opposes any limitations on hive density. At this point it is not clear how this opposition will affect the final draft of the rules.

While there is certainly room for debate about whether the Department should allow for more hives than what is permitted above, towns should be wary of the NJBA’s proposal to essentially extend de facto Right to Farm protections to all beekeepers and to eliminate hive density limits. Rather, towns should be generally supportive of these regulations because they set clear standards with maximum local enforcement flexibility. Ultimately, it is towns that will deal with complaints regarding beekeeping and it is towns that need to be able to enforce these regulations. At bottom, these regulations put forth a much more enforceable standard than what is being proposed by the NJBA.

Reasonable minds can differ about these regulations. But, input from towns is important. Public comments for the Department’s proposed regulations are due by January 19, 2018. If this is an area of interest to your or your municipality, please consider submitting comments.

DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum PC (http://www.dbnjlawblog.com) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services.

The information contained in this blog is intended solely for informational purposes; it is a advertising publication of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum P.C.This publication is intended to alert recipients of developments in the law and is not intended to provide legal counsel, advice or opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended as general information only. You are urged to consult a member of this firm or your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you might have.