Sister Bay Sued Over Beach Concerts

The Yacht Club of Sister Bay filed a lawsuit against the Village of Sister Bay for damaging noise levels during concerts at the pavilion in the village’s Waterfront Park.

“Numerous times over the past year and a half, our [Yacht Club] board tried to reach out to the village,” said Rob Zoschke, general manager for the Sister Bay Yacht Club. “It’s an issue. People are getting pounded with the music.”

But Sister Bay Village Administrator Zeke Jackson believes the motion filed by the Yacht Club board of directors, who retained Derek Goodman from The Law Offices of Jonathan Goodman in Milwaukee, lacks specificity to hold up in court while also eliminating the opportunity for mediating discussion between the two parties.

“Their thing is, it’s loud, we don’t like it and we’re suing you for some dollar reward that we have yet to specify,” said Jackson. “If this is held up in court, every public performance everywhere in the State of Wisconsin now is under scrutiny and would be subject to going away. If they have a particular sound level they want to have us hold to, I think we would welcome that conversation.”


The Sister Bay concert pavilion in Waterfront Park points directly at the Sister Bay Yacht Club. Photo by Jackson Parr.

The village regulates noise nuisances by decibels. When Husby’s has a band at the outdoor bar area, the music must not exceed 85 decibels at the boundary of the lot. But village parks, such as the pavilion in the Waterfront Park, have no cap on how loud events can be. Jackson said the regulation was written this way to allow the board to determine acceptable noise levels on a case-by-case basis.

Correction: The original publication of this article incorrectly stated the decibel level for noise regulation within the village at 70 decibels at a point 25 feet from the lot line. The current ordinance states that noise in all zoning districts except Parks must be below 85 decibels as recorded at the lot line. The zoning code on the village’s official website used as the source for the story was not updated to reflect the current ordinance in Sister Bay.

“[The noise ordinance] does not apply to parks districts. There is no noise regulation,” said Jackson. “The intent was to provide strict control of noises for an objective decibel level in the Village of Sister Bay with the park space being regulated on a case-by-case basis.”

The exemption of village parks from noise regulation makes it difficult for the Yacht Club to point to a specific violation of the village when it comes to the concerts on the beach.

“Zeke’s position has always been he stands at ground level right in front of the stage on the [Yacht Club] property line and gets a decibel reading,” said Zoschke, claiming the decibel readings taken by residents on the second and third floors of the condominiums are often louder than on ground level.

But even if noise levels exceeded the 70-decibel limit on the property line, as long as the sound comes from a village park, there is no violation.

“It has to do with where does the sound originate from and that is the governing basis for the decibel level in those subsequent districts,” said Jackson.

The Yacht Club is seeking compensation for diminished property value as a result of the pavilion concerts and, “for amounts in compensatory damages for the suffering already experienced by the Yacht Club’s residents… in an amount to be proven at trial,” read the motion.

Before receiving the legal motion, the village did receive a letter from Goodman outlining the complaints of his client and ways to proceed, but Jackson viewed the letter as a demand to stop the concerts rather than open a dialogue.

“Never have they told us we would like to see a certain decibel level at this property line,” said Jackson. “That is how we have a dialogue. Never had they said we’d like to set up a meeting to have a conversation with you guys. This has escalated to crisis level immediately without any intermediary steps other than the normal customary complaints we would receive from any other citizen about a particular issue.”

Since these normal customary complaints came from a single group of residents and not the public in general, the village board did not formally take the item up. The lack of response from the board encouraged the Yacht Club to get an attorney involved.

“If we’re talking about the village use of the park space, our intention is to be good neighbors to all of the surrounding properties, not just a vocal minority of the Yacht Club,” said Jackson. “We’ve received input from a number of property owners, business and residential and mixed use and the only complainant that we seem to have is [from] the Yacht Club.”

At its July 19 board meeting, the village entered into closed session to confer with their legal counsel on litigation that it is likely to become involved in, but it did not specify a direct connection to the lawsuit filed by the Yacht Club.

Goodman declined comment.

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