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Springville man fights to keep chickens in his yard

A Springville resident believes he is being wrongly prosecuted for keeping chickens in his yard to produce eggs.

Seth Wochensky was in Village Court Friday on a misdemeanor charge of possession chickens. His case was dismissed but it’s expected a new one will be opened.

Wochensky fears he could eventually be sentenced to six months in jail or fined thousands of dollars. While he would not admit to owning chickens, he conceded he at times has had the birds in his yard on South Central Avenue.

Wochensky, who is the executive director of the Springville Center for the Arts, considers the law vague and thinks Village Board members should revise it.

“If one were to read the law and fully understand the circumstances, one wouldn’t be quick to judge,” he said.

The law forbids “keeping, maintaining, harboring or breeding of horses, livestock, farm animals, wild animals, poultry, pigeons or bees, excepting small animals (not exceeding a combined total of six) kept for less than 120 days and household pets, including dogs and cats (not exceeding a combined total of six with no more than four dogs or four cats).”

Mayor William Krebs, however, believes the law clearly prohibits chickens.

But Krebs also doubts Wochensky will serve jail time.

“His statements to the press about possibly going to jail could easily be construed as a method of gathering support for his cause,” he said.

The mayor reasoned that Wochensky is using the issue as a “publicity stunt” to bring attention to the law.

“He’s using it to advocate for social change,” he said.

His desire for change stems from chickens’ treatment on factory farms. When he and his wife, Allison Duwe, who is the Springville-Griffith Institute School Board president, serve meals to their three children between ages 3 and 7, they refuse to use eggs from factory farms. They believe they lack nutrition and might contain diseases.

“In the Village of Springville, the strange situation is those factory farms are not the crime, but to have a few backyard birds is the crime,” he said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

The dispute marks the second time he has raised the issue.

Wochensky asked the village Planning Board to examine the law in 2008. After the board recommended a revision to the Village Board, he circulated petitions to request an amendment but never gathered the required number of signatures.

Krebs emphasized that none of Wochensky’s neighbors agreed with him.

“Seth, in his neighborhood, stood alone,” he said.

Wochensky also asserted that officials selectively enforce the law.

“There are other people who have small animals,” he said.

Three property owners in the village keep cows or horses because those families owned the animals before the law took effect during the 1960s, Krebs argued. He is unaware of others with farm animals.

Village Board members expect to discuss the law after they receive responses to surveys mailed with utility bills in November asking residents for their opinions.

Krebs cautioned amending the law will take at least six months. Board members hope to start reviewing the survey responses in January.

“The Village Board of Trustees will investigate the merits of changing the law,” he said.

In the meantime, Wochensky will wage his legal battle while representing himself. Unable to pay an attorney, he plans to argue his case in front of Judge Timothy Frank.

“I think it should be a right for people to have small animals in their yards,” he said.