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Lawsuit Over Sister Bay Pavilion Centers on 3 Key Issues

The lawsuit filed by the Sister Bay Yacht Club against the Village of Sister Bay regarding concerts held at the Waterfront Park pavilion argues that the concerts are a nuisance, with the village liable for damages in decreased property value and quality of life.

The village hosts concerts until 9 pm at the pavilion every Wednesday and select Saturdays through the summer until Labor Day weekend.

“Numerous times over the past year and a half, our board tried to reach out to the village,” said Rob Zoschke, manager of the yacht club. “It’s an issue. People are getting pounded with the music.”

The village has a noise ordinance that keeps noise levels to an 85-decibel limit from the property line in all zoning districts except parks, where the pavilion is located. While Village Administrator Zeke Jackson said the village self-regulates its park concerts to this limit, the ordinance is written to exempt the village parks from the noise ordinance that applies elsewhere. Jackson said this self-regulation allows for flexibility in the types of noise at different hours in the park.

“What might be considered an appropriate noise level at 12 o’clock at night on any given night might be a very different level of noise,” said Jackson. “The intent was to provide strict control of noises for an objectifiable decibel level in the Village of Sister Bay with the park space being regulated on a case-by-case basis.”

Even though the village might be playing by the rules, there can still be a nuisance complaint.

Wisconsin law states that a person can bring an action claiming injury if an activity interferes with the enjoyment of property, even if that activity is taking place on a different property, in this case the village’s park.

Invasive noise levels and the damage in property values are the injury the yacht club residents are claiming. Zoschke also said the yacht club’s attorney, Derek Goodman of the Milwaukee-based Law Offices of Jonathan Goodman, believed the protocol on choosing the location and orientation of the bandshell was not properly followed.

Recent Concert Exceeded Noise Limit

Tony Brown and the 608 Riddim Section exceeded the self-regulated village ordinance for noise levels during their Aug. 8 concert at the pavilion. Photo by Jackson Parr.

Tony Brown and the 608 Riddim Section exceeded the self-regulated village ordinance for noise levels during their Aug. 8 concert at the pavilion. Photo by Jackson Parr.

Although the village exempts its parks from the 85-decibel limit imposed elsewhere, Jackson attends the pavilion concerts with a decibel reader. He takes readings at two locations: the sidewalk at the property line between the Waterfront Park and the yacht club, and standing on the breakwater rocks that stretch into the bay.

During the Aug. 3 performance of the reggae group Unity the Band, who headlined and organized the discontinued Midwest Sunsplash music festival in 2015, Jackson saw decibel readings averaging between 60 and 70 decibels with a few peaks up to 80. On a small handwritten sheet of paper marked with the dates of the summer concerts, these numbers were consistent between each performance.

The Pulse took a decibel reader to the Aug. 6 performance of another reggae group, Tony Brown and the 608 Riddim Section. Standing at the property line, decibel readings averaged 85 decibels with peaks up above 90. On the breakwater rocks, the readings averaged 90 decibels with peaks up to 95.

While it is impossible to confirm the decibel readings from the Unity performance, Tony Brown and the 608 Riddim Section were in violation of the self-regulated standards the village holds itself to. Jackson did not record decibel readings at the Aug. 6 concert.

But since the noise ordinance does not apply to parks districts, the concert was not in violation of the ordinance.

Effect on Property Values Hard to Determine

Deborah Eckert, realtor with Kellstrom-Ray Agency, was showing a house across the street from the yacht club during the Midwest Sunsplash music festival at the pavilion last year.

“It was terrible,” said Eckert. “It was very loud inside the house and it wasn’t good. People who come and spend top dollar, they don’t want to be in the middle of a rock concert.”

But Eckert still believes Waterfront Park and the concerts are doing good things for property values in Sister Bay as a whole.

“It’s an asset that people want to be near the Waterfront Park. The people enjoy the free concerts so that’s an asset. We’ve been hearing for two or threes years now that people want to be near the park, to be able to walk to the waterfront and watch the sunset and walk the dog. So it’s a big draw and I think it will help values back here,” said Eckert, referring to property further away from the pavilion but still within walking distance.

Yet Eckert thinks it is too early to determine what the bandshell means for property adjacent to the park.

“I have gotten some people yesterday who are thinking of leaving [the yacht club] just because it’s changed and they’re not too happy with how it’s changed their enjoyment of their property,” said Eckert, adding that someone else might want to buy it for the same reason the previous owners wanted to leave.

Although Eckert thinks it is too early to see a direct correlation between the property values and the park, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo for sale at the yacht club is listed nearly $100,000 higher than the average list price for condos sold in 2014 and 2015.

Regarding these numbers, Eckert warned that property values in Sister Bay and nationally have been on the rise in the past few years, making any line drawn between individual redevelopment projects in Sister Bay and listed sale price blurry.

How Pavilion Location Was Chosen is Unclear

There is one question that is asked more than any other when Sister Bay residents begin talking about the lawsuit filed by the yacht club. Why did they put the pavilion where they did, with the sound pointing straight at those condos?

The first goal in choosing the location of the bandshell when plans were being drawn up in 2012 was not to interfere with the view of the water. This, along with cost, quickly ruled out the original plan to put the pavilion at the end of a pier in the water facing back toward the beach. The village also looked at placing the pavilion behind Grasse’s Grill and the Door County Confectionery, where a new parking lot now sits, but Mill Road limited the number of people that could be in front of the stage. That left two options; the location where the bandshell is today or the opposite end of the park, with the back of the structure against the yacht club property line and the stage facing away from the condos.

“How did it go from the bandshell was going to be positioned facing out over the water in the park to, all of the sudden, it got positioned in a different area,” said Zoschke. “Where are the notes of there ever being a public forum on it? Basically, there never was.”

Although a formal public hearing is not required because there was no change in the zoning of the park, meeting minutes on the original planned location of the bandshell are scarce.

A Parks Committee agenda from April 18, 2012, lists discussion of pavilion designs as an agenda item. The minutes for that meeting are not in the binder of committee minutes at the village office. The same is true for a May 7, 2012, videoconference of pavilion designs with consultants. On Aug. 1, 2012, the committee planned a special meeting on Aug. 9 at 3:15 pm to discuss the pavilion project. No agenda or minutes exist for that meeting.

At the village board level, any discussion on the pavilion and the park dealt with over-budget bids for the project and permits from the Department of Natural Resources.

At the time, Assistant Village Administrator Janal Suppanz, who takes minutes for village meetings, was undergoing hip surgery. Suppanz said that meetings to discuss the location of the pavilion usually took place during a walk through the park, which she was physically unable to attend.

But there are a few people who were there and recall the original discussion of the location of the pavilion.

Jessie Fink, landscape architect with SmithGroupJJR, was one of the first consulted on the layout of the park. While the village did not retain SmithGroupJJR for the entire project, Fink recalls the original discussion of the pavilion.

“The final location chosen made use of the large lawn area but was also relatively screened from the other structures,” said Fink on the need for the water view. “At the time the yacht club was more concerned about the sound being right up against their property so they preferred to push it further back.”

Although Jackson had not yet been hired as village administrator, he was told something congruent with Fink’s statement.

“It’s my understanding that various members of the yacht club approached various members of our board and said absolutely not, we don’t want it on this side of the park,” said Jackson “It needs to be on the other end of the park. That is one of the factors with which the village made the decision to locate it in its current place.”

Yacht club residents denied requests to visit the inside of the condos during a performance. The yacht club attorney, Derek Goodman, declined to comment.

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