Last fall, I had the pleasure to be appointed to the Village of Downers Grove Architectural Design Review Board (ADRB). This board was recently tasked with reviewing and recommending changes to the current Downtown Business District Design Guidelines. We had many meetings over several months and eventually agreed upon a set of guidelines that should help ensure good design in the downtown district. Design features such as the building mass, building materials, windows, entries and awnings were just some of the items reviewed and updated. Fortunately, these will remain guidelines and will allow for flexibility in the design process. I felt it extremely important that we not handcuff building owners and designers into a specific design style. However, basic principles of good design, such as assuring the building façade has a distinct base, middle and cornice, are important and included in the guidelines.
Another aspect of this task was to determine how the guidelines will be reviewed and enforced. Some of what was currently in place will remain in place. Items such as a door replacement, which doesn’t require a building permit, would not need to be reviewed. However, it is recommended that all businesses in the Downtown District be made aware of the guidelines and voluntarily comply. Other projects, such as Special Use or PUD (Planned Unit Development) projects, will continue to be reviewed by the village staff, then reviewed and voted upon by Plan Commission, which in turn will make a recommendation to the Village Board for a final vote.
The biggest recommended change would affect commercial buildings that go through the normal building permit process for façade changes, additions, or new construction. The ADRB determined the village staff would review and make recommendations to the building owners as part of the permitting process. If a disagreement occurs regarding the application of the guidelines between the village staff and owner, the appeal process would then include a review and recommendation by the ADRB.
After much deliberation, I like that the ADRB board has suggested a process that puts more emphasis on compliance with the Downtown Design Guidelines without adding additional steps and public meetings to the process. Good design will prevail and businesses will have no increased hassle factor.