A majority of Brookfield trustees on April 22 rejected a plan to place a blanket prohibition on businesses that promote general assembly, including religious assembly, at commercial properties in the Eight Corners business district.

By a vote of 4 to 2, trustees voted to retain those special uses in the district, which is centered on the Veterans Memorial Circle and includes the two-block stretch of Broadway Avenue from Monroe Avenue to Lincoln Avenue.

Among those uses retaining special-use status are those classified as library/cultural exhibit, religious assembly, indoor assembly/entertainment and outdoor assembly/entertainment.

Voting to retain public assembly as special uses in the code were trustees Michelle Ryan, Edward Cote, Ryan Evans and Nicole Gilhooley. Voting against were trustees Michael Garvey and David LeClere.

The decision was a win for property owner Linda Sokol Francis and her son, Rev. Karl Sokol, who still have plans to bring a development that includes a religious assembly component to Eight Corners.

It was just such a plan that some officials had been trying to avoid considering, ever since allowing Rev. Sokol a special-use permit in April 2018 to allow religious assembly one day a week for two hours at his Compassion Factory Art Gallery and Studio at 9210 Broadway Ave.

On the night the village board approved that special use for Compassion Factory, the village board imposed a moratorium on special-use applications and rezoning requests in the Eight Corners district. That moratorium was extended twice, but expired for good on April 28.

Trustees also voted to keep, as special uses, the daycare and artist studio/instructional service category. That was a change from the prior code, which allowed those uses by right. Also allowed as a special use in the district are amusement arcades, a new use classification in the code.

Prior to the vote Garvey reiterated his warning that failure to prohibit public assembly might lead to a business district where retail businesses were crowded out, subverting the comprehensive plan’s vision for Eight Corners as a pedestrian-friendly commercial shopping district that attracted mixed-use development.

“If we don’t take this opportunity to preserve those [currently vacant] spaces for retail, we won’t have that opportunity again,” Garvey said. “If we make the wrong decision tonight, it can’t be undone.”

But a majority of trustees rejected that reasoning, particularly Ryan, whose background is in urban planning and who argued that the future of retail is not something municipalities like Brookfield can attract without effort.

Citing a planning study, Ryan stated that in downtowns across the U.S., retail stores have gone from 71 percent of the mix to 40 percent. Part of the key to attracting retail, she said, was creating a diverse economic base that draws customers to support retail stores.

“We need to be building this pedestrian environment and building retail, but you don’t do that by prohibiting other things,” said Ryan. “You do that by taking proactive measures that support and incentivize what it is you’re looking for.”

Likewise, Evans and Cote saw the blanket prohibitions on public assembly as detrimental to the future of development at Eight Corners, while Gilhooley said while perhaps not perfect, the approved code will still provide the village board opportunities to regulate development.

In fact, the village board took the opportunity on April 22 to prohibit a number of previously permitted or special uses in the Eight Corners business district. Now prohibited in the district are attached single-family residences (such as townhomes), government services, parks/recreation, postal services, utilities, fraternal organizations, vehicle body/paint shops and community gardens.

While public assembly will still be allowed at Eight Corners, anyone proposing such a business or attraction has to obtain a special-use permit from the village. That process triggers a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission, which can impose conditions on granting such uses. 

The public can also provide input and neighboring property owners would be notified of the application.

Finally, the village board must sign off on any special-use application and can overturn a positive recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission.