A handful of area apiarists wearing pollen-colored shirts urged commissioners Tuesday night to "make bee space in Frederick County."
The beekeepers came to Winchester Hall asking officials to knock down a zoning rule that keeps them from putting their hives in yards smaller than three acres. Talk of changing the local ordinance triggered a stream of feedback from bee-lovers, as well as residents worried about an influx of buzzing insects in their neighborhoods.
At Tuesday's public hearing, most local residents welcomed easing restrictions on apiarists.
"I'm not a beekeeper myself. In fact, I don't really like the little things. But I'm grateful for the folks out there who have the hives," said Erik Secula, of Walkersville.
The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 on Tuesday to move forward with proposed ordinance changes that would grant all property owners the right to keep bees as long as they follow certain guidelines.
The apiarists, many of them wearing badges that asked officials to make room for bees, rose to their feet after the vote and applauded the decision. But commissioners admitted that balancing beekeepers' property rights with those of their neighbors was complicated.
"I could be opening up a can of bees," Commissioners President Blaine Young acknowledged after the vote.
A number of residents who don't fancy seeing more bees in their yards have written asking officials to hold firm with the current regulations. One woman at the hearing said since her neighbor started keeping hives, clusters of bees have covered her birdbaths and feeders, driving away the birds.
But the beekeeping supporters pointed out that if apiarists provide a water source for their hives, the bees typically don't pester their neighbors.
Maryland Delegate Kathy Afzali, who represents Frederick County, appeared at the hearing to speak in support of the beekeepers.
"I'm a born-again honeybee lover," she told commissioners.
The bees play a critical role in agriculture, and encouraging people to keep hives can bolster farming and the ecosystem, she said.
The suggested zoning changes would require apiaries to stand at least 10 feet from the neighbor's yard and ask keepers to screen the hives with a fence or hedge, according to the new rules.
The final draft of amendments to the zoning law will come before the county commissioners at a later meeting for a vote, the county attorney said.
Also Tuesday night, commissioners unanimously voted to allow limited funeral establishments to operate inside homes in remote parts of the county. The owner of Blacks Mortuary Services asked commissioners for the change so he could work inside a building on his family's 10-acre property in Sabillasville. The land sits inside a resource conservation district, a zoning region that runs through the woods and mountains of northwestern Frederick County.
With the ordinance update, Colt Black and other licensed morticians could do embalming, casketing and cosmetology at a single-family house in the sparsely populated zones but couldn't hold funeral services, viewings or other activities that would draw the public to the property.
Commissioner David Gray was absent from the Tuesday night hearing because of a work commitment.