The Northbrook Village Board and Plan Commission recently discussed the need for new zoning guidelines and design standards for the downtown area.
The discussion covered many topics aimed at developing form-based guidelines for structures downtown such as parking options, building setbacks and the relationship of each building to the rest of the street. Several other local communities have adopted a version of the form-based code.
The idea for developing a new zoning code originated several years ago during a community Downtown Plan Project. Unable to agree on some of the recommendations, the village board formed a Downtown Zoning Committee (DZC).
“The village should be taking positive steps by making a plan and telling developers what it wants in the downtown,” DZC Chairman Scott Cyphers said. “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 often have to tell developers that projects do not meet current codes, yet the commissioners are not allowed to offer any direction.
The idea of creating a vision for a downtown is not new, noted Plan Commissioner Steven Elisco. Using the example of Daniel Burnham’s guiding principles for Chicago’s development along the lakefront more than 100 years ago, he said the vision for development still rings true. As an architect, Elisco pointed out that the code actually provides a lot of flexibility, particularly with building heights 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,” he said.