Franklin Finally Addresses Noise Pollution
After years of residents' complaints and pressure from Milwaukee County, Franklin city officials take action on sports complex.
For years residents of the City of Franklin have been complaining to their local elected officials about the noise coming from the Rock Sports Complex and Ballpark Commons.
Neighbors of the massive entertainment complex at 7900 Crystal Ridge Road have complained at public meetings, to the mayor and to county supervisors about the noise coming from baseball games, concerts and the PA system.
Then, after the pandemic hit, the owners of the Sports Complex began operating a drive-in theater, called the Milky Way Drive-In. Neighbors complained of being blasted by loud noise and profanity from the movies late into the night. It’s so loud they can hear the dialogue through the walls of their homes, one neighbor said. More than one has described the noise as “unbearable.”
The Rock Sports Complex and Ballpark Commons were developed by ROC Ventures on land formerly owned by Milwaukee County. For decades it was used as a landfill.
City of Franklin officials have been receiving reports from residents for years about noise pollution from the complex. Police call logs and online complaints dating back to May released by the City of Franklin show the noise is a persistent issue for the neighbors.
Complaints have also been received by members of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, which approved a sonic study of the sports complex. Sup. John Weishan, Jr., who sponsored the resolution, said Franklin elected officials had “abdicated their responsibility.” The county can’t enforce local municipal ordinances, but it can do a study that would supply data on the extent of noise pollution from the complex.
After years of shrugging off concerns, even ignoring advice from their own staff, the Franklin Plan Commission approved a change to the special use permit for the drive-in that requires it to transmit sound from the movies over an FM radio channel or through a smartphone app.
ROC Ventures Chief Financial Officer Tom Johns pushed back on the idea of transmitting the sound exclusively through the radio or the app, and Commissioner Patricia Hogan said “you’re not trying to be a good neighbor.” Mayor Steve Olson advocated for the change and argued it wouldn’t significantly affect the viewing experience.
This was an abrupt about-face after years of complaints about the noise issuing from the complex, and months of complaints specifically regarding the drive-in.
Olson and other Franklin officials have shrugged off the noise coming from the Rock for years. One Franklin resident wrote to Olson in May and June pleading with him to take action that would reduce the noise, which he said is affecting the lives and sleep of school-age children in the neighborhood, including his own.
Olson resisted, saying he’d gone to the neighborhood near the Rock and did sound and light checks, and hadn’t heard enough noise for it to be an issue. “If there’s a demonstrable and documentable problem with sound and light, we’ll fix it,” he wrote to the resident on May 11. And on June 3, he wrote to him again during an exchange, “I would not hold out hope for change.”
Still, the noise complaints regarding the Rock did not begin — and are unlikely to end — with the Milky Way Drive-In.
In June 2017, before ROC Ventures purchased the land from Milwaukee County, Sup. Anthony Staskunas, whose district is home to the complex, wrote a letter to his colleagues on the board saying he would not support the land sale unless there was a comprehensive sound and light remediation plan attached to the sale. “There continues to be an ongoing challenge with noise and light at The Rock complex,” he wrote. The board ended up requiring that the operator monitor the noise and maintain records on complaints and noise violations.
But in order for a violation to count, the sound as monitored must exceed the legal levels for 30 straight minutes. For example, in a report from May 22, there were two such excesses coming from the complex, but they weren’t violations because they did not last 30 minutes.
In a complaint filed July 17, 2020, a resident wrote that the PA system woke up her neighborhood at approximately 7 a.m. “The absurd thought that something is not a legitimate complaint because it does not last for 30 minutes is irresponsible,” she wrote.
A year later, in June 2018, the Franklin Common Council voted, against the recommendation of their planning staff, to remove a required comprehensive sound study from the city’s development agreement with the ROC Ventures.
When the council passed this resolution, planning staff, under then Planning Manager Joel Dietl, noted that the proposal from the developer did not include the following: specific locations for sound meters required by the county, type, location and orientation of sound systems or speakers, did not identify the anticipated sound levels from events or at the nearest residential homes, and incorrectly indicated the city’s permitted noise level was 79 decibels when the underlying zoning district has a permitted sound level of 55 decibels.
One year later, in June 2019, then Ald. Steve Taylor, went before the Milwaukee County Board’s economic and community development committee to discuss the Ballpark Commons project. During the meeting, Taylor said Franklin officials had discussed taking punitive legal action against the nearby residents that had been calling in to complain about noise. “We have a baseball stadium now, opening day, there was complaints. Complaints are different than violations… Yet you have the same individuals that will call game after game after game. We’ve discussed that maybe we’re gonna have to start enforcing nuisance calls to the police department.”
Taylor served as both a Milwaukee county supervisor and Franklin alderman as the Rock Sports Complex and Ball Park Commons developments went before both governmental bodies for key approvals. By Taylor’s own description, he often carried water for the developers as an elected official. In a blog post written after losing his re-election campaign for county supervisor (in the April 2018 election), Taylor said, “if I wasn’t in office, the Ballpark Commons project would not happen.”
Taylor is now the Executive Director of the ROC Foundation, the non-profit wing of ROC Ventures.
In July 2019, Mayor Olson wrote to County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, then the chair of the development committee, addressing the sound issue: “You should be aware that I routinely monitor the sound coming from the development during concerts and now professional baseball games,” he wrote. “My experience has been that traffic noise on 76th Street blocks any other noise from events.”
But now that the county board approved a sound study which Franklin planning staff recommended back in 2018, Franklin officials have acknowledged for the first time that there is an issue with noise at the Rock complex.
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