The conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) is challenging the City of Madison over an ordinance requiring bird safe glass in the construction of new buildings.
WILL is bringing the challenge against the City on behalf of four realtor, development and building associations, stressing the increased cost the bird-safe glass ordinance would have on new development.
The Madison Common Council unanimously passed the bird-safe glass ordinance last August. The ordinance requires bird-safe glass treatment on new construction and development for buildings over 10,000 square feet.
WILL attorney Dan Lennington says the ordinance violates state law in adding additional restrictions to something called the uniform building code.
“In 2014, the state of Wisconsin chose to have a uniform building code. The idea of a uniform building code is that if someone wanted to build a building in LaCrosse, or Milwaukee, or Green Bay, or Madison, is that all the same requirements would apply. The idea is that builders, realtors, and investors have settled expectations for the quality of the materials that are supposed to be used in how to build a building. And if one city undermines that by imposing their own requirements, it sort of spoils the uniformity for everybody.”
Lennington adds the ordinance would raise new costs on buildings and hinder investment, carrying the costs onto renters.
William Connors represents the developers advocacy group Smarter Growth Greater Madison. Connors argued last summer that even the cheapest bird safe glass is double the cost of normal building glass. And other options can be up to quadruple the cost of normal glass.
CONNERS: “This is the time when the city should be acting to encourage development, more development, not discourage it because there’s a very large gap in the pipeline coming up soon.”
But there is a reason for the bird safe glass. It protects birds from being killed by collisions with windows through special treatments that increase visibility for birds.
Bryan Lenz is the glass collision program manager for the American Bird Conservancy. Lenz said that collisions with glass kill up to 1 billion birds annually in the United States.
LENZ: “And that’s a huge number. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are ten to twenty billion birds in the US in a given year. So we’re talking about a huge source of mortality for birds. And it’s one that everybody can do something about. It doesn’t cost a lot. And really, who wants to live in a building that kills birds?”
Speaking at last August’s common council meeting, Lenz said this special glass has the added benefit of lowering heating and cooling costs.
“This saves significant amounts of money for the tenants that everybody is concerned about, which is something that is not factored into upfront costs. Not to mention that saving birds is the right thing to do ethically and for a healthy environment.”
Last August, Brenna Marsicek, the Director of Communications & Outreach for the bird wildlife conservation group Madison Audubon, expressed her hopes of the bird-safe glass ordinance expanding outside of Madison.
“We’d also love to see other cities nearby adopt a similar type of ordinance to make this area a lot safer for birds in general.”
WILL is bringing the notice of claim on behalf of Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Builders Association, Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin, and NAIOP Wisconsin – Commercial Real Estate Development Association.
The City has the next 120 days to change or remove the ordinance. If it doesn’t, Lennington says the City would face a lawsuit.
Feature photo of glass windows on the Capitol Square. Credit Chali Pittman/WORT News.