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EDITORIAL

When zoning is a buzzkill

Boston’s strict beekeeping regulations show how the city’s intricate web of zoning rules can often do more harm than good.

While beekeeping is allowed in certain neighborhoods, the process of approval for new beekeepers is unnecessarily arduous and discouraging.Aleksandr Rybalko/Adobe

Whether in Boston or elsewhere, anyone who has had to navigate zoning codes knows how tedious they can be. The permitting system is often cumbersome, and sometimes, rules and regulations feel completely unnecessary — as if they exist solely to keep the drones at City Hall busy. Is the color of every storefront’s signage, for instance, really any of the government’s beeswax?

There are so many zoning rules to follow that residents routinely violate them without even knowing it. That’s exactly what happened when Val Mayo, a Hyde Park resident, decided to pick up a new hobby: beekeeping. Mayo often heard her grandfather reminisce about raising bees, and she decided to finally buy some hives of her own to keep in her yard.

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What she didn’t know at the time was that her new hobby put her squarely in violation of Boston’s zoning code, which prohibits beekeeping in her neighborhood and many other parts of the city.

But in a move that has undoubtedly set the city’s beekeeping community abuzz, Boston City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune introduced an ordinance that would end that prohibition. “I just think the regulatory state can outdo itself sometimes,” Louijeune told the Globe editorial board. And beekeeping is a prime example of that.

While beekeeping is allowed in certain neighborhoods, the process of approval for new beekeepers is unnecessarily arduous and discouraging. The new legislation would simply remove bee regulations from the zoning code and place them in a municipal ordinance instead, which would give the city the authority to lift beekeeping bans in every neighborhood while maintaining rules for beekeepers to abide by. Those include, for example, the number of hives someone is allowed to have and regulations governing how far from a sidewalk those hives have to be.

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There are several lessons that the City Council should learn from the recent spotlight on bee regulations. The first is that it should pass this ordinance and allow Boston’s bee enthusiasts to pursue their hobby without having to worry about obtaining permits or violating any rules. Doing so would not only give people a fun activity to partake in and boatloads of fresh honey, but as some beekeepers argue, it may even have some environmental benefits, too. (Those benefits are up for debate, however.)

The second, and perhaps more important, lesson is that the intricate web of zoning rules and red tape can often bring about more harm than good, simply by virtue of their complexity. “What is true is that our zoning code is a mess and it’s complicated,” Louijeune said. “We make it really hard for people to follow the law.”

Indeed, whether it’s beekeeping, complicated parking rules, or installing new benches, people may often find themselves breaking the rules — not because they want to but because the rules are simply hard to understand or keep track of. In Mayo’s case, her desire to keep bees helped bring that particular example of overregulation to a lawmaker’s desk, and it may prompt a positive change in the zoning code. But not every overly burdensome zoning rule will generate the same kind of buzz or get the same treatment. And that’s ultimately why the city should be proactive in removing regulatory red tape, whether it’s to promote a better nightlife in Boston or new housing developments.

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It’s not every day that there’s an opportunity to take some of the sting out of the zoning code — even if it’s in the most minor of ways. And the City Council shouldn’t pass this one up.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.