Buildings and Birds

Bird-safety has become an issue in San Francisco, and the City’s Planning Code will likely include new provisions in the near future that are designed to protect our fine feathered friends. There are approximately 400 resident and migratory species of birds in San Francisco, due to the diverse habitats of the Bay Area and its position on a coastal migration path known as the Pacific Flyway. Studies show that birds living in or flying through large cities face special hazards. Research suggests that buildings and windows are the top killers of wild birds in North America. As a result of this increasing awareness, San Francisco is likely to join cities like Toronto and Chicago that have recently passed ordinances creating mandatory “bird-safe” building guidelines.

On June 14, 2011, the Planning Commission will hear public commentary and take action regarding the proposed adoption of the Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings, which will include additions to the Planning Code. The Planning Department has received more than 2,200 pieces of correspondence regarding this legislation, the vast majority of which has been in support. A brief summary of the new code provisions is below.

Hazard Triggers

The proposed Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings would apply to all building projects that are deemed hazardous due to their location or inclusion of specific building features. There are two “hazard triggers” that projects will have to navigate as part of these new standards:

Location-Related Hazards. Projects (new construction and certain types of additions or alterations) located inside of, or within a clear flight path of less than 300 feet from an Urban Bird Refuge (any open space 2 acres or larger that is dominated by vegetation; open water areas; and some green rooftops) would require bird-safety treatments to a portion of their façade.

Building Feature-Related Hazards. Regardless of the project location, development that includes certain features deemed hazardous for birds in flight, including free standing clear-glass walls, greenhouses or other clear barriers on rooftops or balconies; free standing clear-glass landscape features or bus shelters; skywalks and balconies that have unbroken glazed segments 24 square feet and larger in size, would require bird-safe treatments to 100% of the feature.

Bird-Safe Treatments

Once a hazard is identified, a series of bird-safe treatments would be required for effected projects.

Feature-Related Hazards would require bird-safe glazing on 100% of their area. Location-Related Hazards would require bird-safe glazing such that the Bird Collision Zones consist of no more than 10% untreated glazing. Bird Collision Zones begin at building grade and extending upward for 60 feet, and including equal portions of glass facades directly adjacent to large landscaped roofs.

Permitted glazing treatment may include fritting, netting, permanent stencils, frosted glass, exterior screens, physical grids placed on the exterior of glazing or UV patters visible to birds.

The vertical elements of the window patters must be at least ¼ inch wide at the minimum spacing of 4 inches, and horizontal elements shall be at least 1/8 inch wide at a maximum spacing of 2 inches. Minimal lighting is allowed, and when used lighting shall be shielded.

Discretion and Exceptions

There are 3 exceptions to the controls within the proposed Standards:

Treatment of Historic Buildings. Treatment of glass facades for structures designed as City landmarks or located within landmark districts, or any building designated a Category IV or V and located within a Conservation District, shall conform to Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties.

Treatment of Location-Related Hazards for Residential Buildings within R-Zoned Districts: Residential buildings that are less than 45 feet in height that have an exposed façade comprised of less than 50% glass are exempt from new or replacement glazing treatments, but must still comply with feature-related and wind generation requirements. Residential buildings that are less than 45 feet in high but have an exposed façade comprised of more than 50% glass shall provide glazing treatment such that 95% of all large, unbroken glazed segments that are 24 square feet and larger in size are treated.

Waivers or Modifications by the Zoning Administrator. The Zoning Administrator may either waive the requirements for location-related and feature-related hazards, or may modify them to allow equivalent glazing treatments upon the recommendation of a qualified biologist.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben & Junius, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

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