By Bob Uphues
The Rev. Karl Sokol, pastor of Compassion United Methodist Church and owner of Compassion Factory Art Gallery and Studio, revealed on Jan. 14 that he had submitted preliminary plans several months ago to the village for a mixed-use development at Eight Corners that includes a church.
The plan was not formally submitted for review, but was intended to give officials an idea of how much the scope and design of the planned development had changed over time and convince them it met the village's planning goals for the area.
"The idea really was to look at how the needs of the community could be most well met," said Sokol in an interview following his revelations at the end of the Brookfield Village Board's committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 14.
The development would occupy an irregularly wedge-shaped parcel of land owned by Sokol's mother, Linda Sokol Francis, and the Methodist Church along the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard.
According to Sokol, the development would include four ground-floor commercial spaces along the Grand Boulevard side of the structure. Those would be topped by one or two more stories of condominiums, perhaps four or eight units in all.
Along the Washington Avenue frontage, the plan is to build a fine arts center that would include a theater space that would be used on Sundays as Compassion United Methodist Church and would be available for community use at other times. The theater perhaps could seat as many as 150 people, Sokol said.
"This would be a church, yes," Sokol said. "On every Sunday morning we would be talking about Jesus, but the rest of the week it would be available for the community. The idea is for it to be a professional, flexible theater."
The fine arts center would also include art gallery space and smaller rooms for art-related activities. It's unclear, if this is built, what would become of Compassion Factory Art Gallery and Studio, which is directly across Washington Avenue from the proposed site.
"It's too early to say that, but I'd love to see that spin off as its own 501c3 gallery or sell it as a proper art gallery to somebody else if it came down to that," Sokol said.
Sokol perhaps felt compelled to reveal the revised plans for the development, which has come a long way from its original concept.
Last year after granting Compassion Factory Gallery a special use permit to conduct religious services on Sundays, the village board imposed a six-month moratorium, which has now been extended into February, on granting any other special use permits in the Eight Corners business district.
Meanwhile, the village's Planning and Zoning Commission was tasked to look at amending allowed uses in the Eight Corners district in the zoning code. In December, the commission recommended outlawing indoor and outdoor assembly, including religious assembly in the district.
The village board discussed those recommendations on Jan. 14 and a vote on the recommendation could come on Feb. 11, around the time the moratorium is slated to end. Sokol argued that the revised plans he submitted last year ticked all of the boxes the village is seeking for developments at Eight Corners and that outlawing all forms of assembly for the singular purpose of preventing the Methodist Church a worship spot there was "throwing the baby out with the bath water."
"On a general principle, it's a really bad idea to make extensive legislation that would restrict growth in order to address a specific issue," Sokol told trustees during the public comment portion of the Jan. 14 committee of the whole meeting. "It's just bad governance."
Sokol argued that the specific issue in this case – a church/fine arts center – was "a good."
"I don't know why we would be investing against it," Sokol said.
The new plan is completely different from the original plan, unveiled by Linda Sokol Francis in 2010 and denied by the village board that same year. The original essentially was a large open gathering space/gymnasium with a small commercial component at the point of the wedge, right at Eight Corners.
With the opening and expansion of The Max in McCook there's less need for indoor recreation spaces and Linda Sokol Francis, with her $1 million donation, has chosen to concentrate on helping make the Brookfield Public Library a vibrant community gathering place.
So the plan has changed to address both the village's planning goals and further the success of a fine arts venture at Eight Corners, said Sokol.
"We feel like we really came to more than a reasonable compromise for what that space can look like," Sokol told the Landmark. "And I can't imagine what they're hoping to build there that would be better or more beneficial to the community."