It seems so long ago, those Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals hearings in Brookfield a decade or more ago. They are remembered, well, not fondly.
There were development proposals, eventually ditched, that made no sense, like the huge condo buildings pitched at 31st and Prairie and in the 8500 block of Brookfield Avenue.
There were developments that made some sense but couldn’t conform to the zoning code, like Steve Campbell’s six-story condo building near the Congress Park train station that required – and got – 11 zoning variations before he sold the property and the zoning rights at a huge profit to someone who ended up losing the land to foreclosure.
There were developments that didn’t quite make sense from a design standpoint but were approved anyway, like the townhomes at Eberly and Shields, shoehorned into the site and facing their backs to Eberly Avenue.
And there were projects that might have worked, like a mixed-use development on Grand Boulevard that was scuttled over parking and density.
There were more: The Forest Creek condos, built only after the whole project went into receivership during the crash; a doomed proposed townhome development in the 3700 block of Sunnyside Avenue.
The process that resulted in the townhomes and a handful of single-family homes on the former Buresh Lobster House property was absolutely surreal.
Development projects prior to 2007 were coming at Brookfield planning commissioners and the village board from all angles, and the village had a zoning code and planning process that was completely inadequate to address them properly.
Even after the village adopted its 2020 Master Plan in 2004, its recommendations regarding planning and zoning were left unimplemented.
Last week when village officials rolled out a major revision of its zoning code for the areas near the three village train platforms, there was some trepidation. Many of the folks who attended the town hall had been through some of the development wars of the early 2000s and they were leery.
“Just what does this mean?” some openly wondered. “Will this allow the village to push through monstrous developments without public scrutiny?”
But the point of the new zoning code, and we hope the rest of the village’s zoning issues are addressed in the crafting of a new comprehensive plan next year, is not to give local government a tool to provide handouts to developers.
The point is to avoid poorly designed developments that no one really wants. Instead of engaging in an approval process that is both interminable and results in less-than-optimal designs, the point of the new code is to say to developers, “Look, this is what Brookfield wants. Make your development conform to this vision.”
It’s a big change. There apparently won’t be the kinds of public planning and zoning reviews that take place now. Village planning staff and the manager’s office will evaluate proposals in terms of the way the plans meet the written code, which include everything from density, height and setback requirements to design standards, building materials and landscaping.
It’s a code where trust is paramount and where buy-in from the village as a whole is necessary.