Beekeeping has been a part of Keith Snyder's life since his childhood, when a colony hung just beyond the kitchen where he and his parents cooked all their meals.

Decades later, that kitchen – and the house it sits in – is his. Snyder also inherited his father's knack for keeping apiaries, with 14 hives thriving in his Hatfield backyard, the most he's had in years.

It's a measure of success that experts say is uncommon, keeping so many bees alive throughout the bitter Pennsylvania winters. But Snyder's neighbors aren't as appreciative. Since June, they've lobbied the Borough Council to enact an ordinance that would limit the number of hives on any property in Hatfield.  After months of meetings, discussions and public hearings, the measure is scheduled to be weighed at a council meeting on Wednesday.

If it passes, it will be the first of its kind enacted into law in the Philadelphia region.

"I want this done, squashed, off the table," Snyder said. "I explained in that meeting that I realize I have my limit right here and would actually like to reduce it some. But I want to work with Montgomery County and work with other beekeepers."

Such legislation is uncommon in Pennsylvania, with limits on beekeeping in effect almost exclusively in the western half of the state. No other municipality in the collar counties has enacted limits on residential beekeeping, and Philadelphia itself was named a "bee friendly city" by a 2016 City Council resolution.

"Local municipal ordinances are the exception, not the rule," said Mark Antunes, a master beekeeper and former president of the Montgomery County Beekeeper's Association. "And in my experience, these come to fruition because of fears and concerns by people who live within a close vicinity of the beekeeper."

Antunes said much of that fear is through exaggerated reports of stings. The majority of such cases are actually caused by other insects, such as yellow jackets, which he said are often mistaken for honey bees.

In most instances, he said, honey bees are docile, attacking only when they or their hives are threatened.

"When you ask about what's the 'right number of bees,' there is no state-established number per acre or square foot or property size," Antunes said.  "It comes down to what the ability of the person is, what the conditions are like, and what they are doing.  And from what I can gather, Keith is being highly responsible and managing things well."

Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said all beekeepers must be licensed with the state, have their apiaries registered and be subject to inspection twice a year. These regulations are in place to control diseases that affect bees and protect the overall health of an insect that is vital to agriculture.

Anything beyond that is left to local government.

Snyder has his hives registered with the state Department of Agriculture, and they were inspected in June after one of his neighbors filed a complaint. He passed with a "clean bill of health," he said.

Anne Clayton, the neighbor who first brought the issue of his bees to the Borough Council's attention at its June meeting, lives catty-corner to the Snyders on School Street.

She declined to speak to a reporter at length last week, saying only that "there are too many bees being introduced into this small neighborhood."

Hatfield's solicitor, Catherine Harper, said the borough's leadership did not pursue this issue on its own, but felt compelled to act after repeated complaints from Clayton and others.

Keith Snyder holds up a print of pollinating insects. Experts say stings are often falsely attributed to bees, which resemble many other species of similar insects.
David Swanson / Staff Photographer
Keith Snyder holds up a print of pollinating insects. Experts say stings are often falsely attributed to bees, which resemble many other species of similar insects.

"The borough council is trying to balance the equity of people who want to keep bees with people who are living in homes in a densely populated community," she said. "We're not against bees altogether, we just want to be sensitive to people who have family members with allergies and are fearful of getting stung."

Harper said the proposed ordinance was modeled after similar legislation in Forest Hills, a suburb of Pittsburgh. In its current form, it limits residential beekeepers to two hives for every 2,000 square feet of property and requires the purchase of an annual borough license for beekeeping, among other measures.

Under Hatfield's proposed ordinance, Snyder would be allowed eight hives on his property, which county records show is about 7,400 square feet.

That seems a reasonable number to Dave Ardelean, one of Snyder's neighbors who voiced concerns at Borough Council meetings this summer about the growing number of hives.

"I am pro-bee, and when the hives were in the lower single digits, it was no big deal," said Ardelean, who is allergic to bee stings. "Now, it's gotten to the point where they're swarming in our trees and entering other properties.

"I know you can't control exactly where the bees go, and I know they're not aggressive," he added. "But one way to think of it is, when there's less of them, there's less of a chance to get stung."

Ardelean's wife, Karie, said that she and her son have both been stung, and that the higher numbers of bees flying around their property made it difficult to weed her garden this summer.

"Nobody wants a war, and we don't want him to stop beekeeping," she said. "We just want him to do it in a way that's respectful to us and our needs."