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4 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Design Review


Almost all municipal approval processes come with some twists, turns, unanticipated elements, and so on. The design review process, a method of ensuring quality of design for site plans, landscape plans, and building design, is no different.

All projects are required to meet or exceed expected design standards, but the process is full of the unexpected. Here are four things you might be surprised to know about the design review process.



The design review board in many municipalities is often comprised of residents who are volunteers. The volunteers are appointed by the city council. This can pose a problem as it may result in uninformed decisions, in comparison to professional city planners.

It may also result in potential biases, which can lead to unrealistic requirements/expectations. The public’s desires can conflict with realistic expectations, something that can make projects unfeasible from a practical and financial standpoint.


Increasingly Expanded Focus

The rise of “live, work, play” initiatives by cities have expanded the focus of city design review boards. With the increased efforts to make many cities more walkable, the approval process now focuses on the design of public benches, shaded/rest areas, and increased landscape requirements. And those are in addition to the general architectural design of the building.

While these are tremendous efforts in helping to beautify areas and are beneficial to communities, they can also create grey areas. What’s deemed walkable, or pedestrian-friendly? What qualifies as meeting certain requirements? While guidelines may be in place, an expanded focus adds a new element to meeting what can be somewhat subjective requirements.


Causing Major Delays

If a design review board is not satisfied with the proposed design, it can mandate additional meetings. In many cases, a proposed development will have to go through several design review board meetings before approval, adding months to a project’s timeline.

Essentially, initial design denial adds another formal step to the entitlement process. Projects can’t move forward to planning commission without that stamp of approval. That means back and forth with planners and architects, an extended timeframe, and ultimately additional project costs.

Understanding the Commercial Real Estate Development Process

Reducing Legal Appeals

A benefit of design review board meetings is that they have the ability to reduce counterproductive legal appeals by providing an upfront community forum. Review meetings provide the public the opportunity to get an early look at proposed developments and voice their opinions.

While public input could force developers to go back to the drawing board, adding costs and time, they can also prevent greater legal hassle down the road. It leads to earlier resolutions to concerns and oppositions.

Design review, just one of many steps in the commercial development process, can go smoothly, or it can add significant costs and delays to your project. It can even halt your project. All in all, there’s an unpredictability that you undoubtedly must always account for.

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