Editorial: Planners focusing on JoJo's are wise to paint a clearer picture of Naperville design goals

Naperville planners are realizing the need to paint a clearer picture of downtown's look

The paint job for the new JoJo's Shake Bar in downtown Naperville has become a bit of a controversy. Or really, it wasn't a controversy until some on the city's planning and zoning commission brought it up in their November meeting.

Commissioner Anthony Losurdo said he saw the facade while driving by. He said it stuck out like a “sore thumb.” “I was shocked,” Commissioner Oriana Van Someren echoed. “A wonderful business, but it just doesn't seem to fit whatsoever.”

Board members disapproved of the painted dripping effect that looks like melting ice cream atop the shake bar's building facade. But because JoJo's adhered to city codes regarding its main color choice, turquoise, and the amount of accent color it used — it still covered less than 25% of the facade — there's not much the commission or city can do about it.

Except create stricter guidelines for the future. The city staff is expected to, as requested, come back with a new guideline suggestion that would require a downtown building owner to go through the commission if “the accent color becomes more decorative or artistic — something beyond the standard square, rectangle,” as a city administrator put it.

Naperville has found itself on, if you'll pardon us, a slippery slope that can face any community seeking to set standards for the look of its defining visual feature, its downtown.

Staining brick surfaces currently is allowed, but painting isn't if the bricks have not been painted before. And accent colors can be different hues as long as they don't exceed the coverage allowance. So JoJo's did what it was allowed to do: use an accent color that didn't exceed that 25%. Nobody ever outright said before that the accents had to be a “standard square” or rectangle.

Plenty of suburbs are very strict about their downtown designs. Think of North Shore suburbs, especially, where a set of businesses, downtown or not, can hardly deviate in their signage typeface, much less the brick or painted look of the buildings. In many communities, even familiar a business as iconic and familiar as McDonald's might have to downplay its colors and design.

And we get it. So should other critics of Naperville's new initiative. Communities want to convey certain styles, strict or not, and managing this sometimes indefinite goal requires finesse and care. In fact, such care on the part of communities' leaders has helped bring a mix of character to our towns that makes exploring the well more than 100 suburbs in our area so fascinating.

So far, it's not clear if Naperville overall is achieving a specific uniform look. That drive by JoJo's and its neighbors that Losurdo took shows even the Jackson Avenue Pub next door looks well different from the Williams-Sonoma store next to it — in colors, style and height of awning, light fixtures up top and more. The brick on the building on the other side of JoJo's shows a strip of discoloration across the bottom. The Charles Schwab building across the street is a very different height.

Maybe all of this is what the plan commissioners are trying to fix. Let's not forget, of course, the need to help, not hinder businesses right now. With all these goals in mind, Naperville planners are wise to begin trying to define more specifically their broader design strategy. Other suburbs may also want to take note of their efforts.

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