You stand at the Memorial Circle, where Brookfield’s Eight Corners converge, and you take stock of the 360-degree view.
Starting from the corner that has housed Leo’s Liquors for many, many years – here’s how it looks: recently burned-out former Lagori’s diner/Nutriworld, vacant land, vacant land, dental office, vacant real estate office, bank drive-thru facility, First National Bank of Brookfield.
That doesn’t exactly scream “vibrant.”
But that’s not the whole picture. In addition to the bank, there are other businesses that have thrived and have drawn retail customers to the Eight Corners district, including anchors like Tischler Finer Foods and CVS and as well as a variety of retail, service, educational and medical/dental uses.
This weekend, the ribbon will be cut on the district’s newest business venture – an art gallery/studio called The Compassion Factory, whose name indicates that it’s not your typical gallery. It has a mission to support Compassion United Methodist Church, a five-year old “seed” congregation that was planted by the United Methodist Church when Brookfield United Methodist Church folded.
It’s also fair to say that The Compassion Factory was created, at least in part, to serve as Compassion United Methodist Church. The church itself owns the property, a former dry cleaning business at 9210 Broadway Ave. (next to one of the vacant corners).
The hitch in the plan is that religious assembly needs a special use permit in the Eight Corners commercial district (actually in all of Brookfield’s zoning districts), and allowing a church use at or near one of the Eight Corners has been something the village has resisted for many years now.
Linda Sokol Francis, the mother of Compassion United Methodist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Karl Sokol, tried and failed to win such a permit to build a much larger church/community center on land she owns at Eight Corners several years ago.
She still wants to realize that dream, saying more recently that the building might also have a residential component to it. While she hasn’t come forward with an actual plan for such a building at this time, we have every reason to believe she will. Francis is determined as well as savvy, having now purchased three of the eight corners as well as other commercial property in the district. She’d like to open businesses that complement the church’s mission at some of those locations.
At the same time, the village of Brookfield is laying out a very clear – and in many ways contradictory – plan for Eight Corners, as a more densely populated, thriving commercial/district.
What precedent would granting a use for religious assembly at Eight Corners create? Well, for one thing, it might certainly set the stage for Francis’ much larger vision for a church and its attendant mission at Eight Corners.
One thing we’re pretty sure of here is that a storefront church at Eight Corners certainly doesn’t fit in with the village’s vision for the district. While the art gallery’s main purpose is retail, allowing religious assembly there creates such a church.
That, for sure, is not a precedent you want to set.