Brookfield trustees made the right decision on April 22, declining to introduce sweeping prohibitions against commercial uses that promote public assembly in the Eight Corners business district.
By a vote of 4 to 2, trustees rightly determined a good many uses that provide for assembly — art/music/dance instruction, live entertainment, cultural exhibits and daycare centers — bring people to the business district in support of retail businesses that already exist, as well as ones that may come to the commercial district in the future.
While some officials downplayed the wish to discourage religious assembly at Eight Corners in their attempt to amend the zoning code by outlawing all public assembly, fear of a church at Eight Corners was at the heart of the effort.
We get the reasoning: Eight Corners has been called out in the Brookfield Comprehensive Plan as a pedestrian-friendly commercial shopping district meant to attract retail stores and mixed-use development. A church doesn’t fit in with those plans.
But the village hasn’t given up its right to regulate zoning at Eight Corners with the passage on April 23 of an amended code that leaves public assembly and religious assembly in place as “special uses.”
The special-use process is a formal, open procedure through which both local government and local residents can vet such applications. Whether it’s a church, a community theater, or artist studio collective, no one will be granted permission for those uses simply by asking.
The community will be able to examine the impact such a use would have on the district — from traffic to parking to pedestrian safety. And the village, through the Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as the board of trustees itself, can impose conditions upon which approval will be granted.
You want a church at Eight Corners? You must demonstrate how it conforms to the comprehensive plan and benefits the business district, provides parking for congregants, affects traffic patterns, and parking for neighboring businesses.
This gives the village leverage to negotiate changes to plans. With a TIF district in place at Eight Corners, the village is also in a position to offer incentives for development it prefers.
We reject the argument that by allowing uses that promote public assembly, you’re setting the stage for crowding out retail at Eight Corners. Retail already exists at Eight Corners and retailers who see the district as viable for their businesses are still welcome.
Also welcome, however, are the kinds of businesses that draw people to the district — places like Miss Clara’s Mini Musicians, a music instruction business that brings families to the area; Compassion Factory Art Gallery and Studio, which combines specialized retail sales as well as art instruction and family-oriented events; and ABC Learning Center, a daycare that provides a service so necessary to Brookfield families that they are looking to expand.
Those are the kinds of businesses you’ll see more and more in every town’s commercial districts for the simple reason that retail is dying. Pinning your future hopes on an obsolete model is misguided.
Seeking as much diversity in an unconventional commercial district like Eight Corners is necessary. As a result of the April 23 decision, that’s still possible.