By Bob Uphues
At least one business owner in Brookfield's Eight Corners' business district is protesting the appearance last week of a sign in a window at 9210 Broadway Ave. referring to the building as "Compassion United Methodist Church."
Laura Atwood, owner of Laura Atwood Studio Beads and Trading Co. at 9142 Broadway Ave., complained to elected officials as well as the director of the village's building department last week about the sign, which she called "underhanded."
Trustee Michael Garvey, one of the elected officials receiving Atwood's complaint told the Landmark that her concerns had been forwarded to the village's attorney.
"We've got [attorney] Rich Ramello looking into what they can and can't have in terms of signage," said Garvey. "I know she's not happy, but we're going to wait and see what they can and can't put up on the property regarding signs."
The building at 9210 Broadway Ave. is also home to Compassion Factory Art Gallery, and a sign announcing that use is on another window on the front of the building. The building continues to function as an art gallery/studio/education business. A new art exhibit, in fact, will debut in the space later this week and upcoming shows are planned out for months.
There are double entrance doors to the building, on the west side. One door identifies the building as the art gallery, listing its hours, which are Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and first Fridays of the month from 7 to 10 p.m.
The other entrance door identifies the space as a church, listing the two-hour worship time each Sunday.
In addition to the stated gallery hours, Compassion Factory Art Gallery hosts art classes for children, teens and adults, weekly workshops in the rear studio space and, on Thursdays during the summer, family nights in the outdoor patio/lawn area west of the building.
However, the property's owner is the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, and earlier this year the Brookfield Village Board voted to allow the formerly itinerant Compassion United Methodist Church to use the art gallery space for religious assembly each Sunday.
And Compassion United Methodist Church's pastor, the Rev. Karl Sokol, said that for two hours each Sunday, 9210 Broadway Ave. was a church.
"From 10 to 12 [on Sundays] it's full-on church, with churchy music and churchy free speech, and the rest of the time it's an art gallery," Sokol said in an interview last week.
Some Eight Corners property owners, like Atwood, suggested that the action would set a precedent that would lead to a permanent church in a district the village's new comprehensive plan identifies as a pedestrian-oriented commercial hub.
Atwood also said that if the art gallery goes out of business in the future, the Methodist Church will own a vacant, open-plan property with a special use permit that allows religious assembly.
"It's a bait and switch," Atwood said. "When that gallery folds, the regional church takes it over. The writing's on the wall."
Not everyone on Broadway Avenue sees a problem with the new window sign.
Keith Brennan, owner of For the Birds, across the street from the gallery at 9207 Broadway Ave., said he's OK with the church sign.
"It doesn't bother me one bit," Brennan said. "I'm not here on Sundays, and my customers haven't commented on it, either."
Betty LeClere, the longtime owner of Betty's Flowers and Gifts at 9138 Broadway Ave., said on Monday that she'd hadn't noticed the sign until informed by a reporter. However, she wasn't concerned about it, either.
"It doesn't worry me at all," said LeClere, who remarked that Sokol's renovation had improved the building greatly. "The building is beautiful."
Atwood said some business owners are afraid of taking a public stand, fearing they'll lose business. Atwood also complained that the village has to focus on business development and not religious uses at Eight Corners in order for people like her to recoup their investments and thrive.
Since renovating her storefront and opening the business, Atwood says her property's taxes have tripled.
"It's about getting commerce in the [Eight Corners] area bourgeoning," Atwood said. "We're being held hostage down there."
The village board's vote to allow religious assembly ran counter to the recommendation of the village's Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted 3-2 to prohibit religious assembly.
In casting his "no" vote back in March, Planning and Zoning Commissioner Patrick Benjamin said, "Once a religious use is established, it's very difficult to control it within their mission."
Commission Chairman Charles Grund, who was absent for that vote but who had earlier expressed doubt about allowing religious assembly at the art gallery, said he had no opinion on the new "church" sign at 9210 Broadway Ave.
"It's a village board issue as far as I'm concerned,' Grund said. "As [the planning commission is] an advisory committee, [the village board] has the final say."