Battle over downtown land in Brookfield: private owners wants a church versus village’s long-term downtown plans

The Chicago Tribune has a story about a battle over one area of possible development in downtown Brookfield, Illinois. Though it may be an relatively small development in a relatively small community, it illustrates a classic struggle in older suburbs: a property owner versus a community’s long-range plan.

On one side is a local resident who bought a significant piece of downtown property because she wants to build a larger building for her Methodist church and provide a place for families and teenagers to hang out. On the other side is the village who has a long-term plan for the downtown that includes using this land for tax-revenue generating purposes.

Here is some more detail about the discussion between the property-owner and the village:

After the vote Francis said she was disappointed but undaunted. She has invested more than $1 million and owns the 14 parcels of empty land and vacant buildings that form the triangle between Grand Boulevard and Washington Avenue, and she vowed that the church/community center will go there even if it takes years…

And village staff and the planning commission stressed that the project does not comply with the long-term 2020 plan. That plan calls for a mixture of businesses to attract customers and boost sales tax revenue along with residential development that would provide customers to those businesses during the day and evening hours.

“I just cannot bring myself to say this is a good project for that area of town,” Trustee Michael Towner said before the vote.

He acknowledged that new development has been slow in coming to the area, but said that just because it is the only proposal doesn’t mean it should be approved.

Both of the proposed uses for the land could be good: new businesses would bring in new tax revenues while a church/community center could help bring people into the downtown area as well as improve the chances for this church.

But in the end, Brookfield seems very concerned about not letting the property go off the tax rolls. How long will this woman fight the village or could they come to some compromise?

Illustration of suburban revenue troubles: Brookfield vs. the Brookfield Zoo

A constant concern of many suburbs is the tax base: how can the community bring in businesses and land uses that will bring in more tax dollars? To do this, some communities may be willing to offer tax breaks to certain land uses. But with the recent economic crisis, some communities have had to rethink their approach.

The source of contention between the suburb of Brookfield and the Brookfield Zoo is how much the water is going to cost for the zoo. For a long time, the community has given the Zoo a break on water, presumably because the Zoo brings in revenue for the municipality. But now with a tighter budget, Brookfield says it needs to charge the zoo a higher rate and perhaps also add an amusement tax to zoo tickets. In cases like these, some businesses might threaten to move – though this may be particularly complicated for a large zoo.

When times are good, municipalities and businesses don’t have as much trouble working out deals. But when there is less money to go around, issues like these become more common.