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Construction, development groups appeal Dane County judge’s bird-ordinance ruling

A Stevens Construction employee secures windows on the exterior of The Lyric Apartments in Madison in 2017. Under a rule approved by the Madison Common Council, new office construction would have to use glass designed to prevent bird collisions. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A legal firm representing a group of construction and development interests filed a formal appeal Wednesday of a Dane County judge’s ruling in favor of a Madison ordinance requiring high-rise buildings to be designed to prevent bird collisions. 

The appeal, sent to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Wednesday, comes from the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty, a group that often takes up conservative causes, an internal email showed. Now lawyers have about 60 days to submit their opening brief. 

Madison’s ordinance calls for bird-safe glass to be installed on buildings with more than 10,000 square feet. It was upheld by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Nia Trammell on August 16 after various real estate, development and construction groups challenged the ordinance. The groups said the ordinance violated the state’s commercial building code and could drive up development costs. 

After WILL lawyers file their opening brief, the city will have 30 days to make a formal response, an internal email showed. The lawyers will have 15 days to file a reply brief. 

Madison’s ordinance, modeled after rules in Toronto and San Francisco, would force architects to change how they design glass buildings. Research generally shows birds are more likely to crash into buildings outfitted with lots of glass, so developers would have to use glass engraved with dots or lines to prevent collisions. 

Matt Reetz, executive director of Madison Audubon, called the ruling “great news,” for both birds and people who benefit from the ordinance’s protection, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Madison was the first Wisconsin city to require bird-safe glass on new construction. 

In its complaint, WILL argued Madison’s ordinance oversteps state law. A legal memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council said that Madison’s requirement violated the state code because its standards were stricter than the Department of Safety and Professional Services, which became the foundation of WILL’s lawsuit in 2021. 

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