The Downtown Development Review Overlay District

All development proposals within the Downtown Development Review Overlay District (DDRO) are required to comply with Guidelines, with applications approved by the Urban Design Administrator or the Downtown Development Review Overlay District Committee. Within the Office of Planning & Design Services (PDS), the Urban Design Team administers and manages this design and architectural review process.

Established in 1992, the overlay district's specific task is to preserve, conserve and protect the "historical, cultural, architectural, aesthetic or other distinctive areas" of downtown by reviewing proposed developments in accordance with established principles and guidelines addressing elements such as "building setbacks along streets, open space, off-street parking, landscaping, paving, lighting and streetscape furnishings, fences and walls, signage and public amenities and, in addition, elements of urban design such as building and street wall character, and building mass and form.

The design review process provides a forum for citizens and developers to work toward achieving a better urban environment through attention to fundamental urban design principles. Design review is intended to assist new development to contribute positively to Louisville's downtown. The Guidelines offer a flexible tool which will allow new development to respond better to the distinctive characteristics of its surroundings.


The downtown area, as with other successful metropolitan and urban areas, is composed of several key components that each serve a function but must work together successfully including areas with specific and unique characteristics; boundaries, connections, and relationships of these areas; key streets and intersections; and the subsequent overall character of downtown.

All successfully urban areas in downtown have much in common with respect to successful urban design and building characteristics. These common threads provide for continuity within downtown as a single destination and then allow the individual districts to successfully focus on their unique characteristics.

Many buildings are constructed up to the front and side property lines to establish a continuous street wall or building frontage along the sidewalk. Individual or connecting buildings along a blockface form a continuous building frontage or street wall and are characterized by an overall mass that is divided into distinct segments or storefronts to create an attractive sidewalk and streetscape environment. Buildings that have a well defined storefront with an entrance from the sidewalk, windows for the display of retail goods or services, signage that is designed, proportioned and appropriately located, and other pedestrian oriented amenities create an attractive and animated sidewalk environment.

Heights of buildings range considerably from single story structures to high rise buildings of well over 200 feet in elevation. This variation in building height and mass provides opportunities for sun light and fresh air to reach the sidewalks and open spaces. Successful high rise buildings have upper stories that are set back from a well defined base composed of one or more lower stories which provide continuity with the scale of adjoining or nearby low rise buildings. Interspersed with contemporary low and high rise buildings are local landmark, national register, and other significant architectural and historic resources. The structures exhibit a broad vocabulary of building materials, ranging from masonry (such as brick and stone) wood, and ornamental metals to contemporary exposed steel and concrete with glass curtain wall designs. Quality building materials, a high degree of surface finish, and attention to detail tend to exemplify the best structures.

Public and private open spaces that successfully create safe, vital, and attractive environments are appropriately located, sized, and designed to incorporate pedestrian amenities such as shade trees, landscaping, adequate seating, fountains, lighting, public art and visual and pedestrian access to sidewalks and building entrances.

Curb cuts and vehicular entrances to parking facilities are located, sized and designed to reduce interruptions in the contiguous building frontage along a blockface and provide for safe and efficient vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow, establish well designed and balanced streetscapes. Surface parking lots are present in all districts and have a particularly negative impact on the quality of the streetscape and district when not screened properly.


DDRO Ordinance

The overlay district was created by an ordinance adopted and passed by Metro Council pursuant to Sections 82.650 through 82.670 of Kentucky Revised Statutes. The ordinance provisions are provided in Chapter 162 of the Louisville Metro Code of Ordinances.


DDRO Guidelines

The Guidelines are not intended to discourage development or to dictate architectural design or style, but to encourage development that contributes to the overall design quality and sustainability of the overlay district. The Guidelines address construction and other external changes to buildings and properties. They are intended to promote compatibility of new development with existing land use and design features.

Link to Guidelines

All development proposals shall comply with applicable Guidelines; however a proposal that does not conform to one or more specific Guidelines may be approved by the Urban Design Administrator or Committee if it is determined that the proposal is in conformance with the intent of the Guidelines as a whole. The Guidelines may be updated or amended from time to time upon a recommendation of the Committee and with the approval of the Metro Council.


DDRO Boundaries

Link to Adopted Map


The Downtown Development Review Overlay District Committee

Appointed by the Mayor and approved by Metro Council, the Committee consists of 11 members. Members are required to be residents of Jefferson County or owners of properties or businesses in downtown. Further, the Committee's membership must meet certain qualifications set forth in Chapter 162 of the Louisville Metro Code of Ordinances.

To view the names and terms of the current Members, as well as to find an online application form for any interested in serving on the Committee, please click here.

To view upcoming Committee meetings and agendas, please click here.


Overlay Permit Application

Link to Applications