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Church critic 'has an opinion but no plan'

Opinion: Columns

February 5th, 2019 11:51 AM

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.