Louisburg, N.C. — Pat Walker admits she is in violation of a Louisburg ordinance against beekeeping, but she said the rule is unfair and unconstitutional.
A judge will decide on Tuesday whether Walker will go to jail for 20 days and be forced to give up her backyard beehives.
Walker said last March her family started keeping hundreds of honeybees.
"I enjoy sitting out here with them and watching them," Walker said.
The family said the hobby has helped pollinate their garden and produces honey for them to use and sell. After two months of beekeeping, the Walkers received a hand-delivered letter from Louisburg police telling them they were in violation of a town ordinance.
Beehives have to be at least 75 feet from a neighbor's property line. The ordinance passed in May after town staff received several complaints about the bees.
"Seventy-five feet, in my opinion, is breaking a constitutional right," Walker said.
Louisburg Councilman Boyd Sturges said the ordinance doesn't restrict most homeowners from keeping bees, but he couldn't estimate the percentage of homes that would be allowed to keep bees and still abide the 75-feet rule.
But Jake Walker, the primary beekeeper in the family, said the rule is arbitrary.
"If you have a 100-acre farm, (it's) not going to make any difference because they will travel," Jake Walker said.
The Walkers say honeybees are gentle and docile. They say the bees will only sting when threatened. So far, they said none of their bees has stung anyone.
Mayor Karl T. Pernell did not return calls for comment.
North Carolina Beekeepers Association President Danny Jaynes called the ordinance "ludicrous." He pointed out that Gov. Bev Perdue has beehives at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh that are 5 feet from the property line.
A hearing on Walker's case will be held Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Franklin County Courthouse.