Friday, February 24, 2012

What's all the buzz about?

I love my job on the Cary Town Council. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life – and at times one of the most surprising. This is one of those times.

When I joined the council in 2007 I was well aware that I was in for an education. I knew I would learn more than I ever wanted to know about land use planning and zoning, property development and environmental issues – but never did I expect to become an expert in chickens and bees. (note: I am not really an expert, I just play one on TV)

I already addressed chickens in a previous post so let’s talk bees.

Currently the town does not regulate beekeeping. Town staff, In response to a few citizen’s concerns, attempted to craft an ordinance that addressed those concerns while continuing to allow residents the opportunity to keep bees. The problem however is that as proposed, the ordinance would only allow for beekeeping on lots larger than 30,000 sq. ft. (2/3 acre). Take a guess how many lots in Cary are 30,000 sq. ft. or larger?


The proposed ordinance would essentially eliminate beekeeping in town limits.

So who cares right? I mean, who needs bees anyways?

We all do.

Honey bees play a critical role in agriculture – the most important being pollination of plants. Over 1/3 of all the food we consume relies on honey bees for pollination. No bees = no food. Think also of the economic impacts. What would happen to the price of food if you removed 1/3 of it from grocery store shelves? Numerous studies indicate a global decline in honey bee populations.

Most of the complaints the town has received about folks keeping bees has to do with the fear of being stung and folks who are allergic to bee stings – a legitimate concern. However, the overwhelming majority of “bee stings” are not caused by honey bees, but instead yellow jackets, wasps and other stinging insects. Honey bees are very docile and only attack to defend themselves or their hive…or if you happen to step on one. Yellow jackets on the other hand are very aggressive and can easily be confused for a bee. See here for a visual comparison.

But not being one to believe everything I read, I went and visited a friend's honey bee colony first hand.

Here is the hive. It is estimated that there are upwards of 50,000 bees inside.

Here we are inspecting the hive (bee owner's face intentionally blurred). The gentleman on the right is Mr. Will Hicks, Apiary Inspector from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Notice they are not wearing any bee protection suits. They did ask me if I wanted to wear one, but since they weren't, I wasn't going to be the wuss of the group. Mr. Hicks was very informative and answered a number of questions I had.

Here we are looking for any indication of disease or mites. No real issues were discovered and the colony appeared very healthy. The honey tasted pretty darn good too!

Even after "breaking into their house", none of us were ever stung, nor did the bees show any sign of aggression.

Bottom line: I don't believe the keeping of honey bees to be an issue that we need to regulate. While I am sympathetic to concerns, I prefer to base my decisions on fact instead of fear.

At our council meeting we rejected the proposed beekeeping regulations and instead directed staff to work with folks from the bee community in the hopes that we can come up with a set of rules/guidelines that everyone can live with.

I would have prefered to have done nothing (not create any ordinance). But we'll see what comes back to council in a month or so after town staff and beekeeping professionals put their heads together.

Things could be worse. Cary, like many cities and states across America, could be facing multi-million dollar budget deficits, rampant unemployment, increased crime and corruption and a host of other serious problems.

I'll take chickens and bees over that any day.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Spring Chickens

Call me a flip-flopper if you want, but I have changed my mind regarding chickens in Cary.

It has nothing to do with “sustainability” or many of the “green” arguments chicken proponents point to – it has everything to do with freedom.

As a Cary councilman and active member of a number of business and community associations I have worked hard to reduce or eliminate overburdensome and unfair government regulations. I am sick of government (especially the idiots in Washington) poking their noses into every facet of our lives. My position on chickens was in conflict with this.

People should have the right to do as they wish as long as their decisions do not negatively impact the health and well-being of others. Just because I do not like something doesn’t give me the right to keep you from doing it.

So we are clear - I do not want chickens. I really hope my neighbors do not get chickens. But if they do, who in the hell am I to say “no”? Just make sure you keep those things closer to your house than mine, and if your chicken flies into my yard and my dog eats your chicken, that’s on you.

Mayor Pro-Tem Gale Adcock and I have placed the following request on council’s February 9, 2012 meeting agenda:

Council initiated request to amend Cary’s ordinance to allow for the keeping of backyard hens.

Mayor Pro Tem Adcock and I are requesting council consideration of a request to direct staff to amend town code to allow for the keeping of backyard hens with the following conditions:

• This amendment applies to single family detached homes only

• No Roosters

• No backyard slaughter

• Chickens may be kept for personal use only – no raising chickens for re-sale

• A maximum of eight (8) chickens allowed per property

• Recommend an annual license fee of $10.00 total (not per chicken)

• No free range. Chickens are to remain in the chicken coup, run or fenced in yard when unsupervised. May be allowed in front yard with supervision.

• Delay the implementation of the proposed ordinance amendment for 3 months to allow HOA’s the opportunity to address this issue if they so desire.

• Chicken Coup: Chickens must be provided a covered, predator resistant housing structure that is designed in such a way that allows for ventilation, ease of cleaning and provides a minimum of two square feet per chicken. The coup should be held to standards similar to what we require for storage sheds and give the appearance of professional design and construction

• Apply appropriate set-back requirements. Understanding that every lot is different, we are looking for staff guidance on how to best protect neighbors by ensuring that the chicken coup is located closer to the chicken owner’s home than their neighbor’s.

• Allows for folks to compost hen’s fecal matter – current ordinance prohibits composting fecal matter of “household pets”. Clarify chicken/hens NOT a household pet if necessary.

“Assuming” that those council members who supported allowing chickens in Cary the last time this was discussed still do, this initiative will pass.

There is no need for more information – this issue has been studied to death. I know more about chickens than I ever cared to. Let’s just get this done and behind us. We have way more important things to focus on.

So like I said, call me a flip-flopper. I don't care. I can admit when I am wrong. What's your excuse? ;-)

Now all this talk of chickens has made me hungry. KFC anyone?