The Design Review Board

Blue house with hands
The DRB will gaze into your project

Many communities will have a Design Review Board (DRB) which oversees new development or alterations to existing structures. An appointment is necessary to have your project reviewed by the board members at a public hearing. Usually the board will consist of five to nine members that must have experience in the disciplines of property development such as Architecture, Landscape Architecture or Engineering. The balance of the board is made up of volunteer concerned citizens. The purpose of the DRB is to guide project development in order to maintain the aesthetic nature and character of the community for which it serves. They take into consideration color, size, view blockage and landscape of new construction or proposed alterations to existing structures.

The Design Review Board is in the best interest of the community

This is what you’ll hear and can be a good thing for the sake of the community but it can also be frustrating for a developer or property owner. Through my personal experience, sometimes you will encounter design review boards that want to become involved in every minute aspect of a project such as outdoor lighting fixtures, door knobs, door style, window size, garage door style, wall texture, roofing materials and landscape – plant, flower or shrub choice. It just goes to remind you how little control you have over your own property investment. This can be a financially imposing and a very time consuming process.

What to possibly expect from the DRB

In order to submit an application to a Design Review Board is a complete set of project plans for each board member, photographs of adjacent and abutting structures with a tract map keyed to the photographs and possibly even artist renderings of the proposed project. These must be created and submitted at the owners expense. Once all of this work is completed and submitted, the DRB may still not approve your project and you will have to start over from the beginning with a new design or concept. This can happen several times over until your proposed project is what they are looking for and to be approved – however they won’t tell you exactly what they are looking for because often, they do not even know themselves. They’ll just tell you when you’ve got it right. “They’ll know it when they see it” – at your expense.

Not all Design Review Boards are the same

On the other hand, many Design Review Boards will assist you in design concepts prior to submittal, saving you possibly thousands of wasted dollars and months of time in your project schedule. It all depends on the project location and how the project site community’s DRB is set up to operate. It’s best to check with your community’s Design Review Board upon the first project conception to find out what and whom are you up against. Even better, attend a review of someone else’s DRB hearing to get a feel of what to expect. Meetings are usually once or twice a month – check with your local Department of Building and Safety for the schedule and location of these meetings. Generally a description of the project and project location is listed in the meetings posted agenda.

The DRB means well

The DRB is not all bad – they do prevent the clash of aesthetic values and diminished community character. We’ve all seen that “Monstrosity” home someone built that is completely out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. The Design Review Board helps prevent this to maintain a balance of aesthetic quality and local character.