Preparing for the Design Review Board

We sat down with Chuck Horgan, AIA, Bernardo Wills Architects Associate Principal and member of the City of Spokane Design Review Board (DRB), to learn more about what the DRB is and why it’s important to Spokane and our clients. 


What is the Design Review Board, and what is their purpose?
Firstly, the Design Review Board is made up of both citizens and practicing professionals who represent community interests. It is important to have diversity of both design and technical professions on the board in order to represent as many folks as possible. The Board was established to improve communication and participation among developers, neighbors, and the City early in the design of new developments (subject to design review – more on this later). The Board’s job is to ensure the projects under review are consistent with adopted design guidelines and help support the City’s comprehensive plan, as well as add to the overall aesthetic quality of Spokane’s public realm.
 
What kinds of projects require DRB review?
Publicly funded projects anywhere in the City (Schools, libraries, etc.), any project in the downtown area, and projects that are requesting Design Departures from prescribed standards all require review by the Design Review Board. There are other additional, more specific triggers – a skywalk over a public right-of-way and projects requiring a shoreline conditional use permit (CUP).  So far I’ve helped review primarily public and downtown projects, though the DRB is about to review a project due to a shoreline CUP.
 
Why did you decide to get involved with the DRB?
I felt a responsibility to join the DRB due to my professional interest in helping make Spokane a better community, and personal interest in a vibrant local arts scene. I believe that well-designed buildings and public spaces are important for a vibrant, strong and engaging community, and I’m interested in how the arts can be incorporated into, and enhance, the built environment. Working as an architect gives me a professional understanding of how the design of the built environment affects resident’s and visitor’s experiences in our community. I am also a member of the Spokane Arts Commission, which has a set on the DRB, and they like to fill it with an architect. It’s an honor to serve in both capacities, and it offers both professional and personal fulfillment.
 
What should our clients know about the preparation for DRB presentations?
For the DRB submittal, the client and design team provide information about the design (site, access, massing) and neighborhood context for the initial meeting, then provide more detail about the specific solutions being proposed, including materials, landscaping, lighting, etc. at the subsequent meeting. Communication with the City staff (early and often!) is encouraged and helps the process proceed smoothly. The DRB presentations can be integrated into the project schedule without adding time to the process, but there is additional work for the design team to prepare for the presentations. In practical terms, there is a cost to the DRB process, but it is small in relation to the overall design effort.

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