After weeks of discourse, and some last-minute revisions, Hatfield Borough Council voted Wednesday night to approve an ordinance regulating backyard beekeeping.
The unanimous decision capped a summer's worth of dissension in the tiny Montgomery County borough, with Keith Snyder's backyard apiary at the forefront.
Snyder and his wife, Gwendolyn, had a lukewarm reaction to the ordinance's passing, especially after so much discussion surrounding it.
"I'm disappointed that this went through. I feel like I caused a problem for other beekeepers," Snyder said after the meeting. "I do appreciate the latitude it gives me, but it does make what I do a little more difficult."
Snyder, 55, currently has 14 beehives on his property, a number that's steadily grown in recent years. His neighbors on School Street started lobbing complaints about the bees in June, urging Borough Council to enact a regulation on beekeeping amid reports of stings and swarms in the tightly packed suburb.
Snyder fired back, saying that his family kept bees on that property for decades without incident, and claiming that most of the reported stings likely came from other, similar-looking insects.
The ordinance approved Wednesday limits the number of hives on borough properties to two per 2,000 square feet. Under that formula, Snyder could legally maintain eight hives on his property, which county records show as 8,400 square feet — previous assessments incorrectly listed it as 7,400 square feet.
Snyder has the option of putting additional hives on other properties, with the written consent of the property owner.
Hatfield's ordinance also requires beekeepers to register their hives annually; requires beekeepers to provide seasonal access to food and water supplies for the bees; and gives borough staff the right to inspect wherever bees, wax, or hives are stored.
Any violation of the ordinance comes with a $1,000 fine.
Such legislation was previously unheard of in the greater Philadelphia region. Most municipalities leave regulation to the state, which requires all hives to be registered and inspected twice a year to control diseases that affect bees. Snyder's hives were inspected in June, passing with a "clean bill of health," he said.
At a meeting Oct. 7, Council President John H. Weierman stressed that the ordinance was not singling out Snyder, and was instead concerned with the "safety and welfare" of borough residents.
"No one is disputing that what Mr. Snyder is doing is good or that he's good at it," Weierman said at the time. "The council's first job is public safety and welfare."
Ultimately, the vote on the ordinance was delayed that night after questions about its wording were raised by both Snyder and members of the council.
Throughout the Borough Council's drafting and revision process, supporters on both sides of the debate weighed in, packing otherwise sparsely attended meetings, sending emails and making phone calls.
At Wednesday's meeting, Steve Repasky, the head of the state beekeeper's association and a master beekeeper himself, drove in from Pittsburgh to underscore the importance of "getting the ordinance correct."
"The outcome of this ordinance will have effects way beyond the boundaries of this town," Repasky said, adding that the "eyes of the Commonwealth" were on Hatfield.
"You have the potential to pass an ordinance that can be used as a model in other municipalities around the state and the country," he added.