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Rural beekeeping avoids restrictions, for now

Spokane County planning officials decided Thursday to think twice before sticking their fingers into a beehive.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to table indefinitely a proposal to introduce restrictions on beekeeping in most rural zones.

Instead, the county planning staff will study the issue in consultation with beekeepers, farmers and orchardists who turned out for a public hearing on the proposed regulations.

Planning Director John Pederson agreed more study was needed after hearing testimony that some of the proposed regulations were impractical and that Spokane and Spokane Valley allow beekeeping in residential areas.

Spokane Valley allows hobby beekeeping, defined as 25 or fewer hives, in most residential zones. Based on lot size, Spokane allows up to eight hives in single-family residential zones – subject to setback, fencing and management regulations.

Pederson said about 50 people attended Thursday’s public hearing, and the 20 or so who spoke were all opposed to the proposed zoning code changes.

The proposal would have regulated beekeeping in the Rural-5, Rural Traditional, Urban Reserve and Rural Conservation zones – where no restrictions currently apply. A ban in Rural Activity Center zones would have continued.

Pederson said there had been no organized call for restrictions, but planners had received complaints about beekeeping. The most common gripe was that hives were too close to property lines, he said.

Planners examined the zoning code and discovered there were more restrictions on bees in agriculture-oriented “resource” zones than in housing-oriented “rural” zones.

They suspected the discrepancy resulted from an oversight and proposed to extend the restrictions to rural zones, Pederson said.

Hives would have been limited to one per 4,356 square feet – the size of a typical urban lot – or 10 per acre. A 50-foot setback from property lines would have been required, as well as fencing to keep children and animals away.