The Commissioner — Summer 2009

Commissioner's Voice

Organizing for Better Design

By John Hedrick
The Village of Glenview, Illinois, Appearance Commission

After many years on the appearance commission, I found that becoming chair prompted me to review our local processes and to benchmark with neighboring communities. This sharing of information provided new ideas and valuable guidance to balance a wide range of community design issues and economic development considerations.

In the Chicago area we have now created the Municipal Design Review Network to develop best practices for local design review. Our commission staff worked with the Scenic Illinois civic organization to host initial network meetings at which over 50 communities were represented — and design professionals gathered to discuss common concerns. The most recent meeting focused on "Best Practices for Challenging Times," and municipal staff presented various ways to expedite commission review procedures. These group events are now being sponsored by the Chaddick Institute of DePaul University in Chicago.

Glenview has a history of commitment to planning and design. The village was incorporated in 1899 and today has 42,000 residents. Located along a major commuter rail line in the north suburbs of Chicago, it was once home to the Glenview Naval Air Station. In the late 1990s this was converted into a carefully designed mixed use community called The Glen.

My community has also been recognized for establishing the first "appearance commission" in the Chicago region in the 1960s. We are "responsible for maintaining the aesthetic quality of Glenview's built environment." Our seven-member commission meets twice monthly and reviews and approves all aesthetic changes to commercial and industrial developments (for example, facade alterations, signs, and landscaping). About three to nine cases are covered at each meeting.

As a lawyer working with architectural issues, I personally believe the design review can be very beneficial if it is conducted in a fair and open manner. To that end, we have spent considerable time developing specific design guidelines based upon citizen and business input. We are now trying to use our website to make this material available to all participants.

Given the many variations of plan commissions and architectural review boards, I have found that communication with the local legislative bodies and among the various design review entities is critical. This can be greatly enhanced by gathering and sharing information with neighboring communities.