Student holds one-man protest over laws that prohibit him from raising poultry

A Valley View High School senior hopes to ruffle the feathers of Lackawanna County commissioners over municipal laws against keeping live chickens.

Evan Zavada, 18, spent part of Thursday afternoon on the lawn of courthouse square with a sign reading “Legalize Chickens” propped next to a chicken-wire cage containing a live hen. If Mr. Zavada has his way, municipalities would do away with chicken laws that prohibit or limit how many birds one can own.

“I believe it is an infringement upon individual sovereignty and property rights,” said Mr. Zavada, who has 40 chickens.

The aim of his prchikenlawotest is to gather signatures on a petition he plans to take to the commissioners. He wants them to know he’s serious about a bill he intends to present to them, entitled the “Lackawanna Right to Grow Act,” which would repeal existing municipal ordinances prohibiting the raising of poultry.

“I don’t see any legitimate reason why we shouldn’t be able to live off the land,” Mr. Zavada said.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O’Brien said Mr. Zavada’s petition will be considered and commissioners will talk with borough officials to get all the facts in the case.

“We look forward to reading his petition, and we will pass his petition along to the solicitor for review,” he said. “This is a new one for Lackawanna County.”

Mr. Zavada said he was inspired by a teacher at Valley View High School several months ago to start raising chickens for their eggs. Mr. Zavada skipped school on Thursday so he could protest.

Nine chickens became 40 over the months. He kept them at his grandmother’s four-acre property in Blakely, where he thought they were safe because of the size and relative remoteness of the land. He said he would harvest the eggs and sell them in addition to eating them himself out of an interest in self-dependence.

He got into trouble when he let them roam.

“One went to some person’s yard and that person complained,” Mr. Zavada said, recalling what prompted Blakely officials to come tell him he could not keep the birds in the borough. The birds are now somewhere in Archbald, which also does not allow chickens. While Mr. Zavada would not say exactly where his 40 chickens are, he did hint that they are no longer free-ranging.

Archbald Zoning Officer Scotty Lemoncelli said if he found out a resident was keeping chickens in the borough, he would first issue a warning. If the warning is ignored, the offender will be brought before a magistrate.

“It’s not permissible in the borough,” Mr. Lemoncelli said.

Efforts to reach Blakely Borough Manager Thomas Wascura were not successful.

Other municipalities have enacted similar ordinances that prohibit or restrict certain types of farm animals. In Clarks Summit, for example, pigs, hogs and swine are strictly prohibited, according to a borough ordinance dated July 3, 2001. As for chickens, the ordinance does not expressly restrict poultry, but could make it difficult to keep a chicken in the suburban community. The chicken must be quartered no closer than 10 feet from the exterior of any dwelling or property line and must be kept in an enclosure.

“Most people have been pretty positive about it,” Mr. Zavada said of passers-by on Thursday. He said his parents have been supportive of him, too, but when they learned he skipped school for a chicken protest, his goose may be cooked.

Contact the writer:, @jkohutTT on Twitter

For the story of how Amherst, MA changed its chicken laws, see:

Lets all raise hens!

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