By Bob Uphues
The Compassion Factory, an art gallery created by a local Methodist pastor and owned by the United Methodist Church, will be able to host a two-hour religious service each Sunday after the Brookfield Village Board voted unanimously to grant a pair of special use permits at its meeting on April 23.
In voting to allow religious assembly for the small congregation at the art gallery, the village board's decision ran counter to a recommendation for denial by the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission. The village board also approved a special use permit for shared parking for members of the congregation on land across the street.
Perhaps fearing a legal battle if they rejected Compassion Factory's request for the special use for religious assembly, trustees said they felt the weekly two-hour time limit would not pose a problem for the business district.
Prior to the board's vote, trustees Ryan Evans and Michael Garvey remarked that allowing religious assembly for the Rev. Karl Sokol's small Methodist congregation received strong support from residents, including many of whom were not members of the church.
"This ordinance with the confined hours, with the limitations placed on it, I think it's appropriate for the village of Brookfield and I look forward to seeing how it goes in the future," Evans said.
Garvey, however, hinted that potential litigation may have also weighed on trustees' minds.
"We've had the advice of legal counsel and reading up on the federal laws and the applicable laws, that maybe seemed to indicate this is something that needs to be granted," said Garvey, adding he wanted to be a "responsible steward of village funds."
"We're not authorizing a church on this property," Garvey said. "We're authorizing religious assembly on this property for very active residents of Brookfield and beyond."
At the same time, however, the village board also voted on April 23 to place a six-month moratorium on any special use applications, zoning map amendments or zoning code text amendments within the Eight Corners and Station Area Districts to temporarily head off any other requests like Compassion Factory's.
During that moratorium, the village will conduct a study that may result in amendments to the zoning code regarding allowed uses at Eight Corners and other commercial districts.
"This is a key sector of the village for us," said Garvey, referring to Eight Corners. "We invested money and created a TIF district in this area, because we believe this village board shared a vision of what we wanted that district to be going forward."
The new Brookfield Comprehensive Plan imagines Eight Corners as a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use commercial residential area. The village recently entered into a preliminary redevelopment agreement with a Western Springs-based development company to explore concepts for redeveloping the vacant Brookfield Bowl property at 3415 Maple Ave.
Compassion Factory opened at 9210 Broadway Ave. in January after the Rev. Karl Sokol undertook a two-year total renovation of building, which was formerly a dry cleaning business.
Sokol is pastor of Compassion United Methodist Church, which bought the property in early 2016. The congregation was created after Brookfield United Methodist Church folded in 2011.
Sokol's mother, Linda Sokol Francis, had formerly attempted to get a new church/community center built on land she purchased between 2009 and 2010 in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard, which forms one of the Eight Corners that frame the veterans Memorial Circle.
However, the village of Brookfield rejected the notion of a church at Eight Corners. Since that time, Francis has purchased additional property in the Eight Corners district for the expressed purpose of furthering the Methodist church's mission, by creating businesses that can provide jobs.
She has never given up her hope of building a church on the land in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard.
Critics of allowing Compassion Factory a special-use permit for religious assembly argued doing so would set a precedent that would pave the way for a church at Eight Corners.