After months of being kicked back and forth between the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission and the Brookfield Village Board, the issue of what kinds of commercial uses ought to be allowed, for now, in the Eight Corners business district appears to be settled.
Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission took its third whack at recommending changes to the business district’s use table in the village’s zoning code. It looked a lot like what village staff recommended last August.
Apart from straight retail, restaurants and bars and some service uses such as medical offices and hair and nail salons, any use where people might congregate is off the table. The one concession was allowing video game arcades as a permitted use, though the village’s existing arcade empire appears destined to remain ensconced on Ogden Avenue.
That leaves a whole lot of potentially revenue-producing enterprises – anything related to music or theater, for example – out of the mix. Also, left out in the cold are cultural uses, like artist studios, galleries or instruction.
The decision to limit uses so dramatically has everything to do with the fear of being faced with having to approve or deny the Rev. Karl Sokol’s proposed mixed-use building in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard, which would include an arts centers space for live theater and music performances.
Why would you drive away an arts center in the midst of an otherwise sleepy commercial district in the middle of Brookfield? Because Sokol also wants the theater space to double as a church for his Compassion United Methodist Church.
Elected officials, most of the planning and zoning commissioners and the village’s legal counsel have not been shy about admitting that this is the case. Although the words “Karl Sokol” and “church” were never mentioned during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s hearing on Feb. 28, that was clearly in mind when commissioners and the attorney repeatedly referred to protecting the village from a future legal challenge.
With a village board-imposed moratorium on special use applications at Eight Corners about to expire in April, officials feel a more overarching prohibition on assembly at Eight Corners is their best protection from Sokol’s plan and a possible legal challenge.
The village’s attorney at the Feb. 28 hearing suggested the village might want to address particular uses as one-off issues as they need to be. We have to say that sounds like a really unusual preemptive zoning strategy.
Sokol said he plans on submitting plans for his proposal anyway, and we look forward to that because right now all anybody has had to go on are concepts that have been verbal only.
Perhaps when the actual building plan is submitted on paper it won’t look as frightening to officials as they think it’s going to be.
One future note for the Planning and Zoning Commission: If this matter comes before the commission in the future, we’d recommend that Commissioner P. Christopher Straka recuse himself.
Straka’s father is Sokol’s architect, and Chris Straka was one of the two commissioners voting against the sweeping use changes at Eight Corners. You could make an argument that he ought to have recused himself from that vote as well.