Linda Sokol Francis, a Brookfield businesswoman who has purchased land along the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard to build a new Methodist church/community center, expressed amazement Monday night that the plan has run into so many roadblocks.
“I had no idea a year and a half ago that it’d be any problem,” Francis told members of the village board during their meeting on Oct. 11. “I had no idea it would happen the way it did.”
Just minutes later Francis was confronted with statements from three trustees indicating that her project for the church was headed nowhere, because it didn’t fit in with the village’s master plan for the Eight Corners area. Three other trustees didn’t venture an opinion on the plan, leaving a planned vote on the issue on Oct. 25 completely up in the air.
“The idea that if you build it, they will come – I’m not sure I buy that completely,” said Trustee Michael Towner. “That may be a good line for a movie, but it’s not good for planning. I don’t think this project meets the master plan. I admire your passion, but this project is not my passion for this part of town.”
If four trustees vote not to approve a preliminary plan for the church on Oct. 25, it would effectively kill the project. On Sept. 23, the Brookfield Plan Commission voted not to recommend approval of the project, agreeing with village staff’s assessment that it didn’t meet eight of 10 planning standards.
Trustees Cathy Colgrass Edwards and Brian Oberhauser also indicated they would uphold the Plan Commission’s determination.
“I’d be loath to overturn the unanimous decision of the Plan Commission,” Oberhauser said.
On Monday night, however, in contrast to the Sept. 23 Plan Commission meeting, 13 members of the public who rose to speak about the issue were unanimously in favor of the new church.
“For the first time since I came to Brookfield, I got really excited about church life in Brookfield,” said Chris Hein, who moved to the village with his wife, Olivia, in May. “I’m trying to decide, am I here for five to seven years or the rest of my life? One of the things that will make that decision is a dynamic place of worship keeping up with current trends.”
Longtime resident Larry Lisowski said that no matter what’s proposed for the site, someone is going to object to it.
“Right now they have a team of people proposing a great project to make Eight Corners and Brookfield a better place,” he said.
Francis assembled several properties along a wedge-shaped parcel between Grand Boulevard and Washington Avenue to build a 12,600-square-foot building that would be part school, part community center, part church and part commercial enterprise. A coffee shop/ice cream parlor at the point of Eight Corners would be an informal social gathering spot, while a multipurpose room would serve on Sundays as a worship space and as an event hall at other times.
Francis has described the venture as a way to connect with younger families and teenagers who have few options available to them.
“I would not have bought this property if I didn’t think this was a good thing,” Francis said, going again and again to her five-word mantra for the project: “This is good for Brookfield.”
Francis said that she has no other plans for the property. The buildings remaining on the site will be demolished regardless. If the plan is approved, she plans on donating the land to the United Methodist Church, which will oversee the construction and operation of the new building.
“If it doesn’t go through, these will be vacant properties,” she said.