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A red, bi-tonal image rendering of 5100 Forest Ave, commonly known as Burlington Crossing.

Downtown Design Guidelines

On June 15, 2021 the Village Council approved an update to the Downtown Design Guidelines.  On September 14, 2021 the Village Council also approved an update to the development review process for certain projects.  

The 2021 Downtown Design Guidelines are available here:

  • are tailored to the Village's three downtown zoning districts;
  • provide enhanced visualizations and graphics;
  • clarify and expand upon key design elements based on previous experiences; and
  • added guidelines for parking lots and utility areas.

The guidelines are divided into seven separate sections: site design, building design, building base, building middle, building top, utility considerations, and parking facilities. Each section describes elements which support good design and provides visual references which identify both encouraged and discouraged elements. As the document notes, the design guidelines do not apply to single family residential uses. Lastly, the document itself also provides a glossary section, which further defines several of the terms used throughout.  

The following offers a background and overview of the tasks and various media and interactive exercises created to form the changes to the downtown design review process from the public, the Historic Preservation and Design Review Board (HPDRB) (formerly the Architectural Design Review Board), the Downtown Management Corporation (DMC) and the Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation (DGEDC).

Design Guidelines Overview

The Downtown Design Review Project involved two key tasks.  The first task involved updating the 2009 Downtown Design Guidelines. The updated guidelines provide guidance based on the three downtown zoning districts - in 2009 there were two districts. In developing the updated guidelines the HPDRB participated in a visual preference survey to obtain their feedback on physical design alternatives.

A brick building that shows how to articulate the variation, color, material, and roofline details.A visual preference survey is a technique for obtaining feedback on physical design alternatives. It is often used when designing zoning codes, planning redevelopment, and in the Village's case, development of building design guidelines. The survey consisted of a series of images that the HPDRB members scored according to their preference on a scale from 1-dislike to 5-highly preferred. The scores of each HPDRB member were then tabulated and the average for each image was presented, with further discussion based on the scoring.

The visual preference survey covered general building and site design topics such as massing, articulation and colors, in addition to utility considerations and parking lots (two topics that were not covered in the 2009 effort). Staff reviewed specific building elements as they were found in the 2009 guidelines. These elements are organized by building base, building middle, and building top, as illustrated in the diagram on the following page. Staff used the HPDRB input from the visual preference survey to update the 2009 guidelines.

The Village will use the Downtown Design Guidelines to guide the exterior appearance of downtown developments that require entitlement approvals. The guidelines are not intended to dictate architecture or building style, but rather influence the design of the building so that they adhere to the Comprehensive Plan recommendations to create pedestrian-oriented development, and maintain a commitment to quality architecture.

Downtown Design Review Update

The Village of Downers Grove, Village Council room showing a presentational whiteboard with Stan Popovich demonstrating the review process.The update to the downtown design review process was approved by the Village Council on September 14, 2021.  This task involved an analysis of the existing review and approval process for twenty seven different construction activity types ranging from work that does not require a permit (painting, landscaping and door and window replacements) to projects that require Village Council approval (Planned Unit Developments and Special Uses). After reviewing existing processes, the task included HPDRB discussions to determine if the HPDRB wished to recommend any changes to the existing process.  As part of developing the recommendations related to Task 2, three fundamental questions were asked:

  • Which Improvements Should Require Design Compliance?
  • Is Guideline Compliance Recommended or Required?
  • Who is the Decision Maker?

At the February and March 2021 HPDRB meetings, staff developed an interactive exercise to assist the ADRB's efforts to address these questions. The exercise sought feedback on three categories of improvements: (1) improvements that do not require a permit, (2) improvements that require a permit and (3) improvements that must be approved by the Village Council. The six videos below help illustrate and offer background to inform the ADRB on their recommendations.

The Village Council ultimately decided at their September 15, 2021 meeting that compliance with the design guidelines for these improvements will be required for: facade renovations, additions visible from a street or alley, new multi-family and new commercial.  The Village Council decided HPDRB serve as the decision maker, while the Village Council would serve as the appeal board.  To learn if your potential project will be eligible for design review compliance, contact Community Development at 630-434-5515.


1. Introduction and Overview

2. Project Objectives

3. Current Review Process


4. Which Improvements Should Require Design Compliance?

5. Is Guideline Compliance Recommended or Required?

6. Who is the Decision Maker?


Public Meetings