Law Group Sues City of Madison Over Bird-Safe Glass Ordinance

In an effort to help reduce the amount of bird fatalities caused by building and window collisions, communities across the country have urged officials to enact building ordinances to require bird-safety materials in certain construction projects. A number of cities, including Madison, Wis., have adopted legislation to mitigate the adverse effects building codes have on wildlife.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court against the City of Madison over a mandatory bird-safe glass ordinance that is preempted by state law. The legal challenge asserts the city ordinance undermines and violates Wisconsin’s uniform building code. This comes almost five months after the organization filed a Notice of Claim against the city, which passed the ordinance less than a year ago in October 2020.

WILL represents Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, the Commercial Association of Realtors of Wisconsin (CARW), NAIOP Wisconsin – the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the Wisconsin Builders Association, and the Wisconsin Realtors Association in this suit.

According to court documents, the companies represented by WILL request “the following relief: Declare that Madison General Ordinance § 28.129 is unlawful and void; Enjoin Defendant from enforcing Madison General Ordinance § 28.129; and award such other relief as the Court may deem appropriate.”

“Wisconsin’s uniform building code is a critical component of a successful economic environment,” said Lucas Vebber, WILL deputy counsel. “Madison’s bird-safe glass ordinance violates state law and creates significant uncertainty and added costs for developers, building owners, and their tenants.”

“The City of Madison’s ordinance sets a dangerous precedent for communities looking to attract and expand business and create jobs,” said Tracy Johnson, president and CEO for CARW. “It could create a competitive disadvantage for cities where the uniform building code is not adhered to.”

The city’s ordinance requires all buildings over 10,000 square feet, skyways and other glass features to incorporate bird-visible safety features of dots or lines into the glass treatment. The complaint filed by WILL states, “The City of Madison has done what the State of Wisconsin explicitly prohibited it from doing: it adopted an ordinance which establishes minimum standards for constructing, altering, or adding to buildings that do not strictly conform to the uniform statewide building code adopted, as required by state law, by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (“DSPS”).”

According to court documents, the city must respond with a written answer within 20 days of receiving the summons.

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