Church critic 'has an opinion but no plan'

Opinion: Columns

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By C.P. Hal

One View

I read in the Landmark ("8 Corners church proposal 'not right or fair,'" One View, Jan. 23) that "churches are supposed to bring the community together, yet the debate over Rev. Sokol's plans for Eight Corners has undoubtedly been divisive for Brookfield."

Linda Sokol Francis has been a successful, small business owner in Brookfield for several decades. The office building she built on Grand Boulevard is the most attractive structure in the Eight Corners business district. Linda's building was designed with two office units on the ground floor, two apartments above, advanced for its day, now the "approvable, desirable configuration" for this area.              

Linda did not make "a big money land grab" for the parcels at issue. As single lots and buildings came up for sale, she was the only one to make an offer. Yes, she tore down the century-old buildings. Yes, she left the parking lot.

Forty years ago, there were two Methodist churches of the traditional style in Brookfield. Twenty years ago, the two congregations merged and the south side building was sold. Ten years ago, the consolidated, north side church was again failing and unable to sustain its ancient, traditional building.

At that point, 10 years ago, Linda made a proposal to give the property across from her office to the Methodist Church. It would build a new, multi-use building with 21st century appeal. 

At the Grand/Washington junction would be a standalone commercial structure, tentatively an ice cream parlor, northwest of which would be a community center/main auditorium suitable for Sunday services and other meetings with space to spare for ample parking. 

Her theory was that, while the old congregation was aging and shrinking, a new building would attract new members who would take pride in being what the Navy calls, "plank holders." Would this work? I do not know, however, she owned the land and the United Methodist Church would pay for the building.

Tiny groups of nay-sayers had objections. Village management had concerns about sewage and storm water management. They also saw this as a location for potential development rather than a tax-exempt church property; however, no developer was interested. 

This notion was strongly shared by at least one board member who loudly objected and prevailed in the vote not to approve necessary zoning variances, hoping for future development.

Roughly speaking this coincided with the arrival of Rev. Karl Sokol, who was trying to hold the Methodist congregation together and attempting to grow it without a formal place to hold services.

The dry cleaners on Broadway closed and the building was offered for sale. Once again no one wanted it. The Methodist church bought it, cleaned up the contaminated property, rebuilt the building and opened an art gallery with the caveat that the Methodist congregation could pray there for an hour each Sunday.     

Your contributor says, "Rev. Sokol's latest plans will undoubted cost . . . millions of dollars in lost revenue." Or, as Linda said 10 years ago, "The property taxes on the vacant land in question are $1,850 per year; I'll promise to write Cook County a property tax check for that amount each year."

In the parlance of today, your contributor is a "stakeholder" which is a misnomer because a "stakeholder" is someone in the vicinity who has no real stake. He has an opinion but no plan. He has no investment in the property and no interest in making one, yet he demands a say in what someone else, who has a plan and has put up the money, wants to do.

Ed. note: C.P. Hall is a former Brookfield village trustee. He was on the village board when Linda Sokol Francis' preliminary planned development application for a church/community center was rejected by a 4-1 vote in November 2010. His vote was the only one in favor.

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Mark McCann  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 5:47 PM

One more thing: since that property is located within a TIF district that is funded with their tax dollars, the business owners are "stakeholders," per your twisted definition. In fact, several business owners have spoken out against the Sokol's plans, despite several of the Sokol's supporters saying that they are going to boycott their businesses. Not one business owner in 8 Corners has publicly supported their plan. Why? Because for the TIF district to be successful and fully funded, it requires ALL properties within the district to be TAXPAYING properties. Why should a church benefit from our tax dollars via the TIF funding when they won't be contributing to the TIF district as a tax-exempt organization? What kind of message does that send to the existing and potential business owners in 8 Corners? Perhaps you can clarify why those business owners (some of whom asked me to help with this) are not "stakeholders" within the TIF district that they fought for and supported?

Mark McCann  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 5:21 PM

Despite your claims, I do have a plan (though it is not mine to execute:) sell the property to an experienced developer, then use the proceeds to purchase property elsewhere in the village where it does not interfere with the village's goals. Or, they could even form a joint venture partnership with their land as equity in the deal and still maintain some control over what is built there while generating some nice revenue for a new church elsewhere in the village. The 3rd alternative, which I do not prefer, would be for the village to purchase the land via eminent domain to fulfill the community's vision for 8 Corners. As a former elected official, you should understand that everyone within the community is a stakeholder within our community - especially in a downtown/commercial district. The village's comprehensive plan that calls for creating additional businesses in 8 Corners (not additional institutional uses) was created with SIGNIFICANT input from the community, thus making us all "stakeholders" on what should be allowed in 8 Corners. I don't recall you publicly opposing that Comprehensive Plan nor for the plans in 8 Corners within it when it was discussed, debated and voted on through our democratic process. The Sokol's purchased the majority of that landknowing the village's goals for 8 Corners, and did so during the height of the recession when they were basically giving real estate away. If she hadn't assembled that land, a qualified developer would have. The Sokol's have had 10 years to find a better location for their church and now Brookfield is very attractive for many developers, and rightfully so. Opportunity costs are very real and our village and schools are losing millions in tax revenue via those opportunity costs as that land sits vacant. You cannot dispute that a tax exempt use in a prime development site hurts the taxpayers', so you questioned whether or not I am free to voice my opinions on this matter that has hurt our community instead.

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