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The groundwork has been completed. Now comes the hard part.

On Tuesday, Brookfield businesswoman Linda Sokol Francis purchased the office building and adjacent vacant lots at 3452 Grand Blvd. Together with six other lots she purchased at 3424 and 3434 Grand Blvd. in July through a company called God’s Will LLC, she now has assembled enough land to pursue her dream – building a new church.

“Hopefully, it will be a Methodist church, but it might be a non-denominational church,” said Francis on Wednesday in an interview with the Landmark.

While there remain church channels, a village planning process and a construction funding campaign to navigate, Francis said her goal is to have the new church ready for worship in two years for the traditional Methodist Rally Day – Sept. 11, 2011.

Francis sees the new church as a way to revitalize the Methodist community in Brookfield and surrounding communities.

“In Lyons, North Riverside, Westchester and LaGrange Park there are no Methodist churches,” said Francis, who wants to reach Methodists in those four communities and give them a place close by to call home spiritually.

Instead of recruiting members from outside the community to shore up Brookfield’s struggling congregation, Francis sees the new church as a way to invite people to participate in creating something.

“It’s hard to grow a church by going to four towns and say, ‘Save our church.'” Francis said.

But giving those people an opportunity to have input in creating (and contributing money for financing) a new church will give them a sense of ownership, Francis said.

“And I want to start in Brookfield, because that’s where my heart is,” Francis said.

While she no longer lives in the village, Francis was a longtime Brookfield resident and was elected to serve two terms as the village clerk. In addition, Francis owns Brookfield Financial Plans, which is directly across Grand Boulevard from the proposed church site.

The idea for building the church was a flash of inspiration about five months ago, Francis said, “in the middle of the night.”

“I realized that all those properties were for sale and they kept staring me in the face,” said Francis, who noted that when she and her husband were thinking of moving back to Brookfield several years ago, they couldn’t find two lots for sale next to each other.

“We couldn’t get two properties together,” she said. “All of a sudden these properties were for sale in the commercial area.”

On July 28, Francis bought two homes and some vacant lots at 3424 and 3434 Grand Blvd. The homes were uninhabitable and in the hands of the Cook County Public Guardian. She obtained a total of six lots for $320,000.

On Sept. 29, she closed on the corner commercial property, which had long been for sale. The insurance office at 3452 Grand Blvd., according to records obtained from the multiple listing service, sold for $422,000. Five vacant lots directly north of the building were sold separately for $158,000.

The property has frontages on both Grand Boulevard and Washington Avenue and forms one of the district’s “Eight Corners.”

In between the homes, which have since been demolished, and the corner property stands the Teamsters Union hall at 3436-38 Grand Blvd. Francis has expressed interest in buying that property, but so far has balked at the $349,000 asking price.

While the property would be nice to have and would connect her two parcels, Francis said the union hall property isn’t necessary for the project to proceed.

“We don’t need the property to do what need,” Francis said. “If we had the union hall it would be nice, but they’re not in a hurry to sell and we don’t need to buy it.”

Though Francis has sunk $900,000 into buying the land for the church, she said she does not have the money to build the structure. That would have to come from other investors and the sale of the Brookfield United Methodist Church, which stands just a block away, at 3541 Park Ave. Francis is a member of the congregation.

The congregation is a small one, with between 30 and 35 members. It’s also an older congregation, Francis said, with just four members who are not retirees and only three children in the Sunday school program.

Its pastor, the Rev. Diane Gillham, is brand new to the congregation, having started Sept. 1 after spending the last six years in Morris, which is southwest of Joliet.

“I’m still learning about the church and still have a lot to learn,” Gillham said. “I am the new kid on the block.”

Francis said she has already talked to the Methodist bishop and district superintendent about the idea. Closer to home, she said that about half of the Brookfield congregation is supportive of her plan.

She’ll also need Brookfield’s government to lend support to the plan, which would most likely have to go through a planned unit development process, which would involve hearings in front of the Plan Commission and the village board.

The properties Francis owns are in two separate zoning districts. The office building on the corner is zoned commercial, while the homes are zoned single-family residential. In either district, churches are considered a special use.

“In my experience, zoning is the major hurdle,” said Keith Sbiral, Brookfield’s assistant village manager and director of the Department of Building and Planning. “We have a 2020 Master Plan that calls out Eight Corners as a significant hub of retail development.

“I don’t know exactly how the board will view taking property off the tax rolls, taking what’s in the master plan a key commercial area out of a key commercial corridor.”

Sbiral pointed out, however, that the counter argument is that a church could bring people into and help revitalize the commercial district and that the area “is pretty vacant now. It’s not like it’s in the center of a bustling commercial retail center.”

According to Francis, the next step is going though the village’s planning process to see if the building will even be allowed at Eight Corners. That could happen later this year.

“First the village has to agree to build a church there,” Francis said. “Will they do that? I don’t know.”

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