Officials at St. Nikola Serbian Orthodox Church in Brookfield have withdrawn an application seeking several zoning variances after members of the village’s Planning and Zoning Commission signaled on Feb. 27 they were not likely to recommend their plan for a new church as presented.
Planning commissioners suggested that the parish’s architect go back to the drawing board to settle a couple of significant issues they had with the application, including scaling down the height of the proposed new church and solving a lot-coverage issue created by the parish’s failure to consolidate all three church property lots it owns at the southeast corner of Prairie and Shields avenues.
“Even if the parcels were consolidated, I think the mass of the building is just a little too big,” said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Charles Grund. “This building design, to me, looks like it could be put on many different parcels … and it seems like they weren’t scaled down to the site.”
St. Nikola Serbian Orthodox Church moved from its former home in Chicago to 4301 Prairie Ave.in 2010. In addition to the corner lot where the current church, built in the 1950s, stands, the parish owns a large parcel of land in back of the church, which extends all the way to Forest Avenue. The parish also owns the home at 4309 Prairie Ave., which serves as the parish rectory and the home at 4312 Forest Ave.
In all, the church owns more than 40,000 square feet of property. Officials have proposed building a larger, traditional style church with a central dome and bell tower in the southeast corner of their property, just north of the home on Forest Avenue.
Since moving to Brookfield, the parish’s congregation has grown and the small mid-century modern church not only doesn’t suit Serbian Orthodox worship traditions, it also is just too small, with standing-room-only Sunday services.
As presented the church’s dome would rise to 41 feet and the bell tower to 48 feet, not counting the 5-foot-tall crosses to be placed on both structures. The property is zoned for residential use and building height is limited by code to 35 feet.
In addition, architect Petko Petrovich told planning commissioners that the parish intended to renovate the existing church and convert it into a parish hall, with classrooms for Sunday school and a large open area for events and for its growing cultural dance club.
Previously, church officials cast doubt on the future of that building, with the parish’s board president telling the Landmark last month it could be demolished. But, the plan clearly appears for it to remain an important part of the church campus.
Grund told church officials that he didn’t think they proved the property posed any hardship that would result in the commission recommending zoning variances.
“I think you could reduce the building slightly, reduce the height slightly,” Grund said. “I think just a little tweak here and there would go a long way.”
Commissioner Jennifer Hendricks agreed that the parish could present a design that met height and greenspace requirements, suggesting that the best way to approach the village would be through the planned-unit development process, where village and church officials could work together to come to a consensus on the best solution.
“It gives us a lot more leeway, design-wise with the entire development,” Hendricks said.
Commissioner Patrick Benjamin acknowledged the need for a larger church and its civic spirit, but concurred with Hendricks on using a planned development approach for building a new house of worship.
“I think it’s a good thing [but] I think what we’re struggling with here, is we’re trying to work with a zoning designation, which is single-family, and trying to put an institutional building in it,” Benjamin said.