The Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission has been asked to consider amending the village’s Station Area Zoning Code in order to allow uses that the code now prohibits, even though existing properties might be good fits for those uses.
The Station Area Zoning Code was passed by the village board in 2017 and was the first major rewrite of that code in decades. It specifically addressed the residential and commercial districts that line the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad from DuBois Boulevard to Woodside Avenue in an attempt to encourage developments appropriate for each area.
While looking toward the future, the code also ended up restricting what property owners can do with buildings that already exist – and are likely to remain for many more years – by outlawing certain uses, even if they make sense for the existing buildings.
On Feb. 8, village trustees directed the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider tweaking the code to eliminate the roadblocks to new tenants in the SA-2 district, which is essentially four buildings in the 8400 and 8500 blocks of Brookfield Avenue near the Hollywood Metra stop, and a portion of the SA-6 district, a larger area that spans both sides of the tracks between Sunnyside and Maple avenues.
Trustees want the commission to concentrate on the part of the SA-6 district along Brookfield Avenue from Sunnyside to Park, a roughly block-long stretch of small industrial buildings set in what is otherwise a residential district.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a pair of public hearings on the possible code amendments at the meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
Prospective tenants stymied by code
Michael Schwarz, the village’s director of community and economic development, brought the matter to trustees’ attention at their Feb. 8 meeting after receiving inquiries from two prospective tenants who had identified properties for the businesses, but were prohibited from locating them there.
Schwarz told trustees he’d been approached by the owner of the building at 8500 Brookfield Avenue, a two-story brick building on the northwest corner of Brookfield and Hollywood avenues in the SA-2 district.
A code violation nightmare for years, the ground-floor storefront has sat vacant for decades. The owner told Schwarz that a law firm wants to enter into a long-term lease for that space, but only retail uses are allowed on the ground floor of buildings in the SA-2 district.
Offices are fine, but only above the ground floor. In this case, the second floor is a residence that is already occupied. While the goal of the Station Area Zoning Code was to promote retail uses in the area near the Hollywood Metra station, there have been none since Norm and Evelyn Scaman’s Olde Country Store at 8420 Brookfield Ave. closed back in 1999.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a volatile market for brick-and-mortar retail outfits, local officials now wonder if promoting that use even makes sense anymore.
“2017 [when the code was passed] is kind of a lifetime ago in current events, in how things have changed and what we envisioned and what has happened since then, the nature of retail and other things,” said Trustee Michael Garvey. “Some boards might say, ‘We did this three years ago, give it a chance,’ but I think we need to be flexible.”
Trustee Brian Conroy wondered why Brookfield would hold fast to its hope for retail when that hasn’t been a viable option more than 20 years.
“It’s been sitting vacant for years,” Conroy said of the building at 8500 Brookfield Ave. “We can have eight attorneys and support staff there that eat lunch every day, probably need coffee. Why would we turn that away?”
Code renders industrial buildings obsolete
The issues are different in the SA-6 area along Brookfield Avenue between Sunnyside and Park avenues, because that district calls for any future uses in that district to be multi-unit residential.
That’s despite the presence of what, over the years, has evolved into block or so of light industry. Such businesses still inhabit the line of warehouse-style buildings.
The owner of the building at 9030 Brookfield Ave. recently approached the village about a prospective tenant interested in operating an industrial kitchen/warehouse distribution business there.
Because the code designates that property as residential, Schwarz said he had to tell the building owner it wasn’t allowed. Trustees were not in favor of a blanket waiver of the residential designation to allow light industry anywhere in the SA-6 district. But they were in favor of allowing existing industrial uses to continue in those specific buildings, while targeting them for residential if they were to be redeveloped in the future.
“When we did this, it was done in the spirit of, ‘If they were torn down and they put something in it would become residential,” said Trustee Ed Cote. “We didn’t want to inhibit or prohibit them from being able to still use the space.”
Conroy added that stripping property owners of the ability to use their buildings as intended was not a desirable outcome for the village.
“You’re going to do considerable harm to all the owners of those properties if the only the only option for prospective buyer is to tear it down and put a house there,” Conroy said. “The buildings are there, the buildings are sound. Let’s make easiest and best use.”