Brookfield is perhaps not alone in its apparently loose application of the zoning code over the decades. Go to any suburb built up during the first half of the 20th century and you’re bound to see some strange things – apartment buildings in the middle of single-family residential areas, homes set to the rear of lots, driveways that appear to lead directly to what is now a family room instead of a garage.
As municipalities adopted zoning codes, they sometimes, like Brookfield, looked around at what already existed and tried to write a code that tried to shoehorn in all of the irregularities.
Over time, local leaders would realize that some of these situations were ones they didn’t want repeated – for example, people deciding they want a driveway for a home that otherwise could accommodate an alley-facing garage.
Officials would rewrite codes, sometimes prohibiting certain things, like allowing new curb cuts for residential lots. A few years ago, Brookfield decided to prohibit new curb cuts and the code reflected that prohibition. Problematically, the village also apparently turned a blind eye to developers going ahead and adding new or moving curb cuts in their construction plans.
More recently, last November, the village board amended the curb cut code to make them special uses and subject to a public hearing process. Last month when a development company tested that special use process, they were stunned to learn that their request was frowned upon.
Brookfield has been popular with new home developers in recent years. The trend in Brookfield is for older, smaller homes to be demolished and replaced by fairly large new builds, often with attached garages that call for driveways.
The homes have proved popular and have sold for amounts in the $500,000 to $600,000 range – a far cry from the kinds of sales typical just a decade ago, when they were half that.
As these kinds of new developments proliferate in Brookfield, and we have no reason to believe they won’t keep coming, the village is going to have to nail down exactly what it wants to see with respect to new residential driveways and where they ought to be located.
The case turned down by the Planning and Zoning Commission, at 4302 Maple Ave., is a tough call. The developer wants to move the curb cut – one already exists at the rear of the lot – closer to Maple Avenue to allow room for a fenced backyard.
Of course, it’s the size of the house that makes a rear detached garage undesirable. It’s a much larger home than existed there before. But if this is the kind of development village leaders see as desirable in the future, it’s something they’re going to have to come to grips with.
Then, once they get this code nailed down, they need to apply it consistently to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.