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In 2015, then Governor Christie signed into law, P.L. 2015, c.76, which preempted municipal authority to regulate beekeeping activity.  Meaning, municipal governments could no longer adopt ordinances to regulate beekeeping within their borders and all ordinances regulating such activity adopted prior to the law were now void.  As a “home rule state,” New Jersey’s municipalities are generally said to have broad power to enact local regulations for all activities, except where the Legislature has specifically preempted.  P.L. 2015, c.76 is a rare example of state preemption over local authority.

Instead of allowing for local control, the 2015 law vested exclusive authority to promulgate beekeeping regulations and standards with the State Department of Agriculture.  Unlike most other forms of preemption, however, P.L. 2015, c.76 allows municipalities to be delegated authority to monitor and enforce the standards promulgated by the Department.

Since the law’s signing, the Department of Agriculture has worked with the League and various beekeeping organizations to compose standards to regulate beekeeping.  On November 20, 2017, the Department first published proposed standards.  The initially proposed rules, however, received a tremendous amount of highly critical feedback from both the League and beekeepers, leading the Department to issue a Notice of Proposed Substantial Changes.

The substantial changes, in the League’s opinion, did not do enough to address the very real nuisance that could be caused by having an area too densely populated by honeybees.  In fact, the substantial changes increased the originally proposed hive density levels.  Not only could this pose a nuisance to those residents within the area but it also poses a risk to New Jersey’s native pollinators that will now be in competition with honeybees for scarce food sources.

On May 6, 2019, the Department adopted final regulations which became effective that same day.  Below is a brief overview of the Department’s adopted beekeeping standards.  This is simply an overview, highlighting pertinent sections of the regulations which have a direct municipal impact.  This overview should be read in conjunction with the regulations in their entirety.

Colony Density

Tract of Land Size Number of Colonies Allowed
Up to ¼ Acre 3
½ Acre 6
¾ Acre 9
1 Acre 12
Over 1 Acre 3 per ¼ acre not to exceed 40

 

Waiver and Procedures for Requesting Waivers

The above-listed colony-density limitations may be extended through a request made by a beekeeper for a waiver.  An application for waiver is submitted by the beekeeper to the governing authority.  The governing authority can be the Department or a municipality if the municipality adopts through ordinance the Department’s apiary standards. (More on this below)

The request for a hearing must be made at least 10 days prior to a regularly scheduled meeting of a governing authority.  The applicant must mail via certified and regular mail a copy of the application to all property owners within 200 feet of the apiary site.  The application shall include the following:

  • The name and address of the applicant;
  • The address, lot and block number of the property at which the applicant intends to maintain the hive(s);
  • The nature of the waiver requested, setting forth the number of the proposed hives; and
  • The date, time, and place of the hearing before the governing body.

The governing authority may grant or deny an application for a waiver based upon a preponderance of the evidence (roughly 51% or more) that the applicant has demonstrated good cause for granting such waiver.  Furthermore, an applicant seeking a waiver must certify that the hives are free of disease. When deciding to grant or deny a waiver the governing authority shall consider the following:

  • The size of the property where the applicant proposes to keep the hive(s);
  • The distance between the location of where the hive(s)is/are intended to be kept and the physical location of adjacent property owners’ homes or dwelling units;
  • Whether the property where the hives are proposed to be kept is fenced to provide a particular type of flyway barrier;
  • Whether the hives for which the waiver is requested are the first hives or an addition to existing hives on the applicant’s property;
  • The prior history of complaints against the applicant for violations of the beekeeping standards;
  • The zoning district of the property where the hives are proposed to be kept;
  • Whether the hive(s) serve some business purpose or the hive(s) are to be kept as a hobby; and
  • Other such facts as the governing authority may believe appropriate to consider according to the case and circumstances presented at the time the application is heard.

A waiver can also be revoked upon the request of a municipal resident or landowner with a particularized interest in the hives located within 200 feet of the hives.  In order to seek a waiver revocation, the applicant seeking revocation must address the same issues as a beekeeper seeking a waiver and be made by a person who certifies they reside or own property in the municipality in which the waiver applies.  Furthermore, notice must be given to the beekeeper through regular and certified mail that waiver revocation will be sought.

Only one petition for revocation per year can be made on each waiver.  Meaning, if one landowner seeks to have the beekeeper’s waiver revoked they would be precluded from doing so if another landowner had previously within that year sought a revocation.

Location of Hives

All hives must be located a minimum of 10 feet from any property line and at least 20 feet from any roadside, sidewalk, or path.

When hives are located on rooftops they may not be less than 20 feet away from any area used for outdoor human activity.   Additionally, hives are not permitted on balconies of multistory, multifamily dwelling unit buildings.

Other Requirements

When a colony is less than 20 feet from a property line, a beekeeper must establish a flyway barrier at least six feet tall.  The flyway barrier must be made of a solid wall, fence, dense vegetation, or some combination thereof.   The flyway barrier must run parallel to the property line and extend 10 feet beyond the colony in each direction.  If the adjacent property is undeveloped or agriculturally utilized, then no flyway barrier is required.   All flyaway barriers must comply with any federal, state, or local law, rules, regulations, and/or ordinances.

Beekeepers are also required to register with the Department.  The regulations identify the information needed for registration and the process for doing such.  If you wish to examine these requirements please see the complete copy of the final rules found in the link above.

The rules as first introduced, required beekeepers to complete recurrent training every five years in order to allow the beekeeper to stay up to date on the most recent beekeeping standards and potential for disease.  However, in the final rule proposal, this continued education requirement has been removed.

Administration of Standards and Authority Delegated to Municipalities

Without municipal action, the administration of these proposed standards is provided by the Department of Agriculture.  A municipality, however, may take over administration if it passes an ordinance adopting by reference the apiary standards promulgated by the Department.  A municipality wishing to take over administration must designate the municipal officer responsible for monitoring the standards and must also send a copy of any ordinance(s) adopting these standards to the Department at least two weeks in advance of formal consideration of such ordinance.

If a municipality which has adopted the Department’s standards finds a condition or circumstance is not sufficiently addressed by those standards, then the municipality shall request guidance from the Department.     The Department must provide guidance to a municipality no later than 90 days from the time such request is received.

If the Department fails to provide guidance within 90 days, the municipality may adopt by ordinance its own standards to address the condition or circumstance.  Prior to adopting its own standards, however, a municipality must first consult with the Department, the League, the NJ Beekeepers Association, and the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium.   Further, any standards the municipality chooses to adopt under this fashion must reflect consideration for population density, the density and intensity of development, type of land use, and honey bee biology and behavior.

Previous rule proposal would have allowed a municipality to seek approval by the department to adopt beekeeping standards in place prior to the passage of the law preempting municipal authority.  This ability, however, has been removed from the final rules.

For those municipalities which adopt the Department’s standards, reports must be provided to the Department covering the period between February 15 and October 15 annually.  Reports must be submitted by May 31, August 30, and October 30 and must contain the following:

  • The number of registration applications incorrectly sent to the municipality and forwarded to the Department;
  • The number and type of complaints from residents including complaints of swarms and/or disruptive contact of honey bees with swimming pools;
  • The number of monitoring inspections by the municipality;
  • The number and type of enforcement actions taken.

Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney FMarshall@njslom.org or 609-695-3481 x137.

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