Design standards, paint, and appearances in a suburban downtown

A new business in downtown Naperville chose a different paint job compared to nearby establishments and this led to some discussion:

Members of the city’s planning and zoning commission gave a chilly reception to the freshly painted exterior at JoJo’s, a self-described “next generation diner” with milkshakes, milk and cookie flights and diner classics that’s scheduled to open this month at 5 Jackson Ave.

But because JoJo’s adhered to city codes regarding its main color choice and the amount of accent color it used, there’s not much the commission or the city can do except possibly ask JoJo’s to change the facade and create stricter guidelines for the future…

Behind white raised letters reading “JoJo’s Shake Bar” is a turquoise background stretching across the two-story building that looks like dripping ice cream extending down past the top of the second-floor windows.

Commission members said a uniform block of turquoise across the top would have been acceptable. They believe the dripping effect, however, isn’t appropriate for downtown Naperville…

The issue came up at the end of Wednesday’s meeting when Commissioner Anthony Losurdo said he saw the facade while driving by, labeling it a “sore thumb.” Stressing he wouldn’t have approved the look had it been subject to a vote, Losurdo said he has received complaints about the paint scheme from residents.

Many communities have guidelines for signs and facades. This helps create a more uniform look, ensures that no single property sticks out too much from others, and can limit concerns from nearby residents (such as signs that are too bright or too big). The aesthetics help contribute to an overall character the community wants to promote.

Naperville’s downtown is important for the community. With its revival in recent decades, the city is proud of the bustling business and social activity downtown. It wants to both nurture and protect that for the future. The downtown helps the community stand out from other suburbs and generates revenue.

So, protecting the look of downtown buildings makes sense. On the other hand, concerns about this new business could send out other signals. It sounds like JoJo’s followed existing guidelines. The end result may not be what some leaders and residents desire but it was within regulations. This commission is supposed to talk about issues like these; their task is to see how properties align with the city’s guidelines. The regulations can be changed to prevent such outcomes.

Even having an article with a headline like this might contribute to perceptions that Naperville is a snobby place. The appearance of dripping paint is a big problem for the community? Does a negative reaction welcome the new business? Is it helpful to have these conversations through a local newspaper?

It is unclear how many people and leaders in Naperville have concerns with the paint job. Will it soon be changed and/or the regulations updated to avoid a similar case? Or, can one building stand out a little in a successful downtown?

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