The struggle for the hearts and minds of Brookfield residents – and, some would say, the township’s future – has begun.
Trustees are well on their way to putting zoning on the November ballot.
The trustees on April 24 created the Brookfield Township Zoning Commission, the group tasked with promoting zoning, the regulation of land use.
Commission Co-Chairman Tori Lucy said she understands the desire of some residents to have a quiet, little town. But, that has meant that businesses and employers have left, population is declining and young people have moved away for opportunities elsewhere. If this trend continues, residents will not be able to maintain the existing level of public services, let alone improve on them, she said.
“It can’t sustain like this,” Lucy said. “The population’s getting older. It’ll all fall on us. We won’t have as much fire, and we won’t have as much police, and we’ll start going down and down. ”
Zoning is a step toward sustaining township services, Lucy said.
Commission member Shannon Hanley, who wasn’t able to vote in the last November election, when zoning failed by 19 votes, because she had not lived in the township long enough, said she loves the township and wants her 3-year-old son to go to school here and be able to live here when he grows up. But, it’s up to the current residents to make the township attractive to the next generation, she said.
“For the most part, if you want to do something exciting, you have to go elsewhere,” said Zoning Commission Chairman Todd Fencyk, who served in the same position last year.
Businesses have left. There are no four-or-five star restaurants, nightclubs or even coffee shops in town, and funeral homes outnumber gas stations, Fencyk said.
“We’ve lost so much over the years,” he said. “Why can’t we start getting some back? It’s my feeling that that’s what zoning would do. Businesses don’t want to locate in a place where their business isn’t protected – protected by property laws. They want to make sure, just like you have your house, they want to make sure a junkyard don’t move in next door.”
Referring to the property protection Fencyk spoke of, Lucy, who works in marketing and sales, said she had a client who was interested in the former Perkin’s/Guliano’s restaurant building in front of what was Valley View Department Store.
“I had a client that wanted to expand so bad and they loved that (former Guliano’s building),” Lucy said. “They found out that there was no zoning; they looked into the population study. These people put a lot into the building, the business. Where’d they pick? Hermitage.”
The committee will have less procedural work to do this year, because the zoning resolution and map used last year are expected to be reapproved for the new campaign. That will leave the committee more time to promote the resolution, something Fencyk said it did not do enough of last time.
“I was just totally astounded, talking to people as they were driving in (at voting polls), how many people did not know anything about zoning,” Fencyk said. “That just tells me we didn’t do a good enough job getting the word out. It bothers me that people didn’t know about it.”
Committee members said they will need to reach people in any number of ways, including door-to-door visits, town hall-style community meetings, direct mailings and on social media.
This information must not only promote zoning but answer the talking points of zoning opponents, committee members said.
“I think the best offense is a good defense,” said commission member Chuck Fizet. “We need a checklist of every possible opposition we can think of.”
The committee will need to educate residents on the property maintenance code that has been in force since 2008, Hanley said, as many people are confused as to the difference between it and zoning. She gave an example of zoning opponents saying they don’t want the government telling them how high their grass can be. The property maintenance code already regulates that, setting an 8-inch limit.
“There’s major rules in play in Brookfield right now that people, I guess, don’t even realize that they’re in play,” Hanley said. “It’s basically zoning on a light scale without the word zoning.”
People also are afraid that, if they live between two existing businesses, the township will tell them they have to move, Lucy said. Because of the concept of grandfathering – in which whatever existed before zoning stays on as long as there are no changes to that use – “We’re not going to tell you you have to move,” Lucy said.
The fourth member of the committee is Noelle Honel, and Honel’s sister, Cindy Matthews, and Leyla Sartori are alternate members.
The committee next meets at 7 p.m. May 8 at the administration building on Strimbu Drive, and will meet thereafter the second Tuesday of every month. Fencyk said he hopes to approve the zoning resolution at the next meeting.