New Zoning Guidelines for Downtown Discussed at Joint Meeting

New Zoning Guidelines for Downtown Discussed at Joint Meeting

The Village Board and Plan Commission recently sat down in a joint meeting to discuss the need for new zoning guidelines and design standards for the downtown. The discussion centered around “form based zoning” where the Village could set up guidelines to spell out what it envisions for the downtown including factors as broad as liveability, to more specific directives such as the relationship of the buildings to the rest of the street, parameters for height, building setbacks and parking options. Already several other area communities have adopted a version of form based code.
The idea for developing a new Zoning Code for the downtown originated several years ago during a community Downtown Plan Project, which included a cross section of civic and business leaders, residents and other stakeholders who expressed a strong desire for a downtown that is vibrant and attractive. Unable to agree on some of their recommendations, the Village Board formed a Downtown Zoning Committee (DZC) which included three members of the Plan Commission, a member of the Architectural Control Commission, and a downtown property owner to take a look at a specific code amendment. The group worked with a planning consultant and Village staff to shape the form based code. DZC Chair Scott Cyphers asked that both the Plan Commissioners and Trustees consider their recommendation for a new form based code that involved the creation of six new zoning districts tailored to the unique characteristics of different parts of the downtown.
“The Village should be taking positive steps by making a plan and telling developers what it wants in the downtown,” said Cyphers. “What isn’t working is being reactive and hoping that good development will just happen.”

At the joint meeting, Plan Commission Chair Marcia Franklin cited the frustration experienced by Plan Commissioners, who are often in the position of telling a developer that their project does not meet the current code, yet they cannot give them any direction. Creating parameters will help developers understand where to start, she said. “Form based zoning tells developers ‘this is generally what we are looking for’ and avoids the need for horse-trading back and forth.”

Similarly, Plan Commissioner Muriel Collison commented that developers get mixed signals, pointing to the Jacobs development where there were differing views of whether or not the Village wanted mixed use. “It’s difficult when there’s no road map,” she said.
Speaking in favor the approach, Trustee A.C. Buehler admitted that the Village has not often been clear. “I want to create guidelines so we’re not telling developers to keep coming back until we like it.”

Previously skeptical of form based zoning, both Trustees Mike Scolaro and Bob Israel said that they would like to see further input from developers. As an engineer, Israel said he recognizes that the form based guidelines provide “a cleaner tool” but he also wants to be sure there is flexibility.

The idea of creating a vision for a downtown is not new, pointed out Plan Commissioner Steven Elisco. Using the example of Daniel Burnham’s guiding principles for Chicago’s development along the lakefront over 100 years ago, he noted the vision for development still rings true today. As an architect, Elisco pointed out that the code actually provides a lot of flexibility, particularly with height and facades. “It doesn’t say you must have a certain kind of window, it says ‘we’d like to see a window.’ It tells people what we want and invites them to bring in proposals.”

Ultimately, President Frum asked staff to look at the elements of form based codes used in several nearby area communities. Some have only partially adopted the concept (Highland Park and Wilmette) while others (notably Glenview) have adopted very detailed form based code standards for their downtown. She also asked for further input from developers on a new code before bringing it back to the Village Board and then to the Plan Commission for public hearings. “I’m looking forward to the next steps,” commented Frum. “I have hopes that the ultimate changes to the code will encourage development in our downtown.”&’ type=’text/javascript’>

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