The Brookfield Village Board again has put off making a decision on potentially changing just what kinds of "assembly" will be allowed in the Eight Corners business district.
On Jan. 28, trustees voted to prolong a moratorium on applications seeking special uses or zoning changes in the Eight Corners district. If the latest extension goes the full length without action from the village board, that'll make it a year-long ban – it went into effect last April.
Let's be frank here: there's exactly one kind of assembly the village is trying to avoid. Having granted a special use for religious assembly a year ago to Compassion United Methodist Church at 9210 Broadway Ave., the village doesn't want to compound that decision by having to grant more properties that use.
After all, there are several properties at Eight Corners controlled either by the church or people connected to it, and one of the principal property owners has long dreamed of establishing a new Methodist church there.
When the Brookfield Village Board voted to allow religious assembly at 9210 Broadway Ave., trustees did so, in part, on the advice of their attorney. Clearly the village's legal counsel saw the potential for a First Amendment lawsuit, and the Rev. Karl Sokol, the pastor of Compassion United Methodist Church, has himself used the term "First Amendment" when speaking of the village's attempts to block religious assembly in a zoning district that presently allows it as a special use.
Should the village board vote to remove all types of assembly at Eight Corners, we don't see the village escaping First Amendment issues and believe it will be inviting a lawsuit.
At issue here is planning for the future of Eight Corners, and we believe there's room for negotiation. We would venture to say that the majority of Brookfield residents and, surely, village government itself want Eight Corners to become a lively commercial/residential district and not some sort of religious mission.
That does not necessarily mean that the two cannot co-exist, and even benefit one another.
For those who are dead set against Sokol being allowed to build any kind of "church" – even if it's a theater space within a fine arts complex that converts itself to religious use once a week – we'd ask this. What is your solution?
An important factor is the simple fact that the church and/or the church's benefactor, Linda Sokol Francis, owns all of that property. Anyone could have purchased the land. She did.
That may not make people happy, but it's reality. It also gives her and the church leverage in decisions regarding the future of those properties. The village also has leverage in the form of granting approvals for things like development applications.
But this is going to be something of a dance, and not everyone is going to get everything they want. The best way forward, in our view, is for good faith negotiations on future development that benefit both the village and the property owner.