A hobby is usually an activity that people partake in to enjoy themselves and take their mind off of stressful things.
For one man in Forsyth County, his hobby is becoming more of a burden than a leisurely activity.
Nicholas Weaver, an undergrad at UGA, has kept bees ever since a friend introduced him to the hobby when he was 13. For the past 11 years, Weaver kept hives of honeybees on his property in a suburban Forsyth neighborhood without any problems.
But on Aug. 30th, Weaver came home to find a notice on his front door from a Forsyth County Code Enforcement Officer regarding his bees.
The notice stated that Weaver’s honeybees were in violation of the county’s Unified Development Code and that he had five days to remove them from his property.
Now he and his fiance, Tabitha Davidson, a senior student at NGCSU, are engaged in a protracted struggle with Forsyth County authorities over the bees. The story has been picked up by newspaper, television and radio stations statewide and is beginning to resonate internationally.
Weaver and Davidson said in an interview that he was told by county Code Enforcement Supervisor Steve Zaring that his bees fall into the category of agriculture and agricultural activities are not permitted on residential property in Forsyth County due to their commercial use.
“I’m not commercial, I’m a hobbyist. I don’t make money, so I don’t think I fall into that,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he was then referred to the Planning and Zoning Department where he met with a representative rather than an actual county planner. Weaver explained the issue and was told it was determined that his bees do not fall into the classification of agriculture or any of the categories listed on the residential usage permitted table but they are “clearly not livestock either.”
It was then decided that Weaver would have to write a letter to the Director of Planning and Community Development, Tom Brown, for a final argument to keep his bees.
Weaver, who holds the record for highest grade on the Georgia Master Beekeeper Exam, penned a letter to Brown explaining the many uses of honeybees, along with the numerous benefits they provide.
The Italian honeybees that Weaver cares for not only serve as a source of honey for him and his family members, but they also aid the community as a whole. Honey can be used for allergies and pollen helps promote sustainability among plants and also serves as a great protein source.
“Basically everything in a hive can be used for something,” Weaver said.
Within a few minutes of sending his email to Brown, Weaver received a response from the director that included: “The Unified Development Code defines livestock as domesticated animals for profit or personal use. Based on some limited research, I would classify bees as a domesticated animal, which would then prohibit beekeeping in residential zoning districts.”
Weaver said that “Bees are not domesticated and never will be. Bees in a beehive are what you would get in a tree; genetically and biologically they are the same.”
When asked about his research, Weaver said the director told him he had gathered it from “Wikipedia and other sources like it.”
Weaver was then told he could appeal Brown’s decision, which would cost him $250. Or he could attempt to have the UDC changed, which would be a much more involved, and expensive, process.
“I think it’s restrictive on a lot of fronts and what they are trying to do in a lot of ways is collect money,” Weaver said.
Fellow beekeepers and other supporters in the area heard about Weaver’s issue and started a petition to get the county to allow him to keep his honeybees. The petition got more than 800 signatures at the Cumming Country Fair and Festival and prompted Suzanne Geddes, leader of the Cumming Harvest, to set up an online petition encouraging the same thing.
The petition, which can be found here, has more than 1,000 signatures with some coming as far away as Switzerland.
A Facebook page was also created in support of the bees and can be found here.
While Weaver continues to gather support from the public, he hopes to reach a decision sometime in the next six months. During that time, he hopes to get a logical reason from the County on to why this has become such a big ordeal.
“They never gave me a reason,” Weaver said, “I talked to three different county officials and got three different answers, I don’t know they were so sure if there was no agreement upon any official of the county.”
Editor’s note: Tabitha Davidson is a staff writer for The Saint.