'Church' sign at art gallery raises eyebrows

8 Corners business owner cries foul on Compassion Factory

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By Bob Uphues


At least one business owner in Brookfield's Eight Corners' business district is protesting the appearance last week of a sign in a window at 9210 Broadway Ave. referring to the building as "Compassion United Methodist Church."

Laura Atwood, owner of Laura Atwood Studio Beads and Trading Co. at 9142 Broadway Ave., complained to elected officials as well as the director of the village's building department last week about the sign, which she called "underhanded."

Trustee Michael Garvey, one of the elected officials receiving Atwood's complaint told the Landmark that her concerns had been forwarded to the village's attorney.

"We've got [attorney] Rich Ramello looking into what they can and can't have in terms of signage," said Garvey. "I know she's not happy, but we're going to wait and see what they can and can't put up on the property regarding signs."

The building at 9210 Broadway Ave. is also home to Compassion Factory Art Gallery, and a sign announcing that use is on another window on the front of the building. The building continues to function as an art gallery/studio/education business. A new art exhibit, in fact, will debut in the space later this week and upcoming shows are planned out for months.

There are double entrance doors to the building, on the west side. One door identifies the building as the art gallery, listing its hours, which are Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and first Fridays of the month from 7 to 10 p.m.

 The other entrance door identifies the space as a church, listing the two-hour worship time each Sunday.

In addition to the stated gallery hours, Compassion Factory Art Gallery hosts art classes for children, teens and adults, weekly workshops in the rear studio space and, on Thursdays during the summer, family nights in the outdoor patio/lawn area west of the building.

However, the property's owner is the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, and earlier this year the Brookfield Village Board voted to allow the formerly itinerant Compassion United Methodist Church to use the art gallery space for religious assembly each Sunday.

And Compassion United Methodist Church's pastor, the Rev. Karl Sokol, said that for two hours each Sunday, 9210 Broadway Ave. was a church.

"From 10 to 12 [on Sundays] it's full-on church, with churchy music and churchy free speech, and the rest of the time it's an art gallery," Sokol said in an interview last week.

Some Eight Corners property owners, like Atwood, suggested that the action would set a precedent that would lead to a permanent church in a district the village's new comprehensive plan identifies as a pedestrian-oriented commercial hub.

Atwood also said that if the art gallery goes out of business in the future, the Methodist Church will own a vacant, open-plan property with a special use permit that allows religious assembly.

"It's a bait and switch," Atwood said. "When that gallery folds, the regional church takes it over. The writing's on the wall."

Not everyone on Broadway Avenue sees a problem with the new window sign.

Keith Brennan, owner of For the Birds, across the street from the gallery at 9207 Broadway Ave., said he's OK with the church sign.

"It doesn't bother me one bit," Brennan said. "I'm not here on Sundays, and my customers haven't commented on it, either."

Betty LeClere, the longtime owner of Betty's Flowers and Gifts at 9138 Broadway Ave., said on Monday that she'd hadn't noticed the sign until informed by a reporter. However, she wasn't concerned about it, either.

"It doesn't worry me at all," said LeClere, who remarked that Sokol's renovation had improved the building greatly. "The building is beautiful."

Atwood said some business owners are afraid of taking a public stand, fearing they'll lose business. Atwood also complained that the village has to focus on business development and not religious uses at Eight Corners in order for people like her to recoup their investments and thrive.

Since renovating her storefront and opening the business, Atwood says her property's taxes have tripled.

"It's about getting commerce in the [Eight Corners] area bourgeoning," Atwood said. "We're being held hostage down there."

The village board's vote to allow religious assembly ran counter to the recommendation of the village's Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted 3-2 to prohibit religious assembly.

In casting his "no" vote back in March, Planning and Zoning Commissioner Patrick Benjamin said, "Once a religious use is established, it's very difficult to control it within their mission."

Commission Chairman Charles Grund, who was absent for that vote but who had earlier expressed doubt about allowing religious assembly at the art gallery, said he had no opinion on the new "church" sign at 9210 Broadway Ave.

"It's a village board issue as far as I'm concerned,' Grund said. "As [the planning commission is] an advisory committee, [the village board] has the final say."

Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

Reader Comments

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Tom Milani  

Posted: August 12th, 2018 10:42 AM

I don't know MS. Atwood at all, but I spent my entire career in retail, and if I owned a store that appeals to artsy crafty people, I would welcome a gallery like this close by rather than creating an adversarial atmosphere with all of the potential customers the gallery could bring.

Matthew Thomas Senn from Brookfield  

Posted: August 9th, 2018 11:06 AM

Those of us who attended the meetings to ask the Methodist church to find an alternate location were aware of this path. It was clear that the Sokol family was going to use this space as a worship space. They couldn't get this approved outright, so they called it an "art gallery" to gain approval. Now they have a "special use" permit for services on Sunday for a 2 hour window. If you follow this story you will see how the church's activities will expand and they will claim that these are not religious activities so they do not apply to the special permit. I wonder how much outrage would be directed at the village if the special use permit had been approved for a Mosque. Many people will argue about maintaining "Freedom of religion," but this only applies to their religion, not everyone else's. From an economic perspective, the Pastor argued that people did not visit this area on Sundays so they would not be consuming parking spaces reserved for business patrons. Now the claim is that they will bring MORE traffic to the area on Sundays? Which is it? I think it is clear that the Pastor likes this location because his family owns the property and a high visibility may increase the size of his congregation. Why they can't be honest about this, I'm not sure. I opposed this special use permit from the beginning and I urge all residents to prevent any expansion of the church in this area. I have not given up on revitalizing Brookfield and we need to make this area a destination for other towns, not just our own.

Elmer Perkins  

Posted: August 8th, 2018 10:43 PM

I hate to break Ms. Atwoods bubble, but unless Amazon chooses Brookfield for their HQ, no amount of new business in the village is going to change what she pays in taxes. The village is going broke, like many, and if it wasn't for the church, that business district wouldn't look as nice as it does now. Shame to be paying a lawyer over such drivel.

Susan Luethje  

Posted: August 8th, 2018 6:39 PM

Wouldn't people coming out of church potentially be customers to the open businesses around eight corners? I don't understand why it's a problem ?" It's not as if business owners are required to attend services.

Karen Klimasz Boylan  

Posted: August 8th, 2018 10:54 AM

Why is this even a news story? ONE person's opinion is not news.

Heather Wojcik Stenson  

Posted: August 7th, 2018 9:07 PM

It's a real shame that a fellow business owner can't support a local business and instead chooses to waste village tax payer money having a lawyer check on sign verbiage.

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