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Petition presented to allow beekeeping in Hampton Township

| Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 2:20 p.m.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Joe Saber, 77, of Hampton, was forced to remove his bee hives because it is against the township ordinance.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Joe Saber, of Hampton, was forced to remove his bee hives two years ago because it is against the township ordinance. But a proposed new ordinance could allow him to bring the bees back home.

More than 500 residents want Hampton Township officials to allow backyard beekeeping.

That's how many people signed a petition that urges township officials to change Hampton's rules on urban agriculture.

Hampton beekeeper Joe Saber presented the petition with 526 signatures at the standing-room-only Aug. 28 meeting of Hampton Council.

“We the undersigned, all Hampton Township residents, urge Hampton Township Council to change Zoning Ordinance No. 627 to allow honeybees and hives in residential zones,” the petition states.

Saber described the signers as “people who realize the importance of bees,” he said.

Hampton's ordinance lists bees among “farm animals” prohibited in residential districts.

At the Aug. 28 meeting, Saber also showed Hampton Council a recent issue of Time magazine with a cover story on the status of U.S. beekeeping.

About three dozen people raised a hand when Victor Son, president of Hampton Council, asked how many people in attendance came to support Saber and urban agriculture. But none spoke at the meeting.

“The beekeeping issue has been brought our attention,” Son told the crowd. “I appreciate the petition.”

Victor told the crowd that Hampton Council plans to consider amending the township's zoning ordinance as it relates to beekeeping — after township officials update the comprehensive master plan.

“We won't be taking any action on this tonight,” Son told the audience.

Earlier this year, Hampton Council hired Environmental Planning & Design, a downtown Pittsburgh firm, to gather public input and update Hampton's comprehensive master plan by the end of 2013.

Hampton Council then will take steps to implement the new master plan's recommendations, such as suggested amendments to the township's zoning ordinance.

“Prior to changing a zoning ordinance, we would have to have public hearings,” Son said. “You could get 100 people to show up and say, ‘I don't want those (honeybees) near us.' Once the public hearing process has been completed, council can vote on the zoning changes.”

In July, Saber, the local beekeeper, relocated multiple beehives from his picturesque backyard along Leroy Drive. He moved the homes of his Italian honeybees to another municipality after Saber got a June 20 letter from Hampton officials.

The letter instructed Saber to remove his hives or risk being cited for violating the township's current zoning ordinance.

“We're looking to have them basically revise the ordinance so that chickens and bees can be kept legally in all residential areas of Hampton Township,” said master beekeeper Stephen Repasky, president of Burgh Bees, which promotes urban beekeeping.

Repasky also serves on the legislative committee of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association.

At the Aug. 28 meeting of Hampton Council, Repasky offered to help township officials draft any possible, future amendment to the township's zoning ordinance that relate to urban agriculture.

“There's no difference between keeping four dogs at a house and four chickens at a house,” Repasky said. “In fact, four dogs produce more waste and noise than four chickens.”

Repasky recently helped officials in Forest Hills and Findlay Township amend their zoning ordinances to allow backyard honeybees and chickens.

Repasky said he is working with officials in Green Tree and Monroeville to also change those communities' rules on beekeeping.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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