This is part 1 in a series of Wisconsin Right Now investigative stories exploring The Rock Sports Complex development in Franklin.
One neighbor says his son is kept up on school nights by the relentless noise that emanates from The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin into his bedroom. A retired attorney and his wife say the thumping bass and other sounds are so bad that they schedule visits from family members around game schedules and can’t even watch TV in peace. “It will drive you nuts,” he says.
The sounds of chainsaws and even a woman being tortured and screaming echo throughout the residential neighborhoods during a month-long Halloween event, the neighbors say. They can’t enjoy their patios and are being driven almost crazy by the noise that filters inside their homes from baseball games and concerts. They hear cowbells and “Sweet Caroline” and the profanity from movies. Next up: a rap concert. They say it goes on for about 130 days a year.
“It’s like someone’s parked right outside your house, and they’re just blasting their stereo constantly,” neighbor Andy Kleist said.
The group of neighbors told Wisconsin Right Now that the sounds coming from The Rock, 7011 S. Ballpark Drive, are destroying their lives, plummeting their property values, and stealing their quality of life. They accuse the developer, and city and county officials of failing to fix the problem despite repeated complaints for years. With the results of a long-anticipated sound study being presented to the Milwaukee County Board this week at long last, the residents reached out to Wisconsin Right Now in what one man described as a final act of “desperation.”
“There is a 30-second loop of a woman screaming, doors slamming; there’s a man running around with a chainsaw…and it’s for dozens of days,” said neighbor Dana Gindt of the Halloween event, The Hill Has Eyes.
She said profanity from a drive-in movie was broadcast into neighbors’ homes until early morning hours. “It’s just so devastating as a mother knowing I can’t do anything to protect my children,” she said.
Wisconsin Right Now met the group of exasperated and at-their-wits-end neighbors on Friday night during a major event at The Rock, when the Savannah Bananas played. The lights from The Rock shone in the background. Loud music and the announcer’s broadcasts emanated from the development into the neighbors’ backyards. It was hard to imagine anyone in those residential homes being able to enjoy the night, much less their patios outside, as the announcer’s voice boomed from the development in the distance, and music continued to play loudly. They were joined by a Milwaukee County Supervisor, Patti Logsdon, and Franklin Alderman Jason Craig, who have pledged to help solve the years-long problem.
“This is a really big problem,” Craig told WRN. “This has been an ongoing thing for years and years and years.” Indeed, the noise problem was written about in many past stories. Yet the problems remain, and you can find just as many news articles boosting the 170-acre development near Whitnall Park.
The Rock sports and entertainment complex “hosts baseball, skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing; along with numerous entertainment events – featuring the Midwest’s first Umbrella Bar,” its website says. ROC Ventures says on its website that activities at The Rock “range from weekly live music and food trucks to regional baseball tournaments and local league games” and claims it offers a “vibrant, positive community setting that makes The Rock a valued presence in Franklin.” The Milwaukee Milkmen play there.
Bernie Carreon said he lives almost a mile from home plate. According to Carreon, starting at age 8, his son told him, “Dad, it’s really loud in my bedroom.” He said he’s been calling city officials for five, six years. “People have been aware it’s keeping kids up at night,” he said.
According to Carreon, his son, now 12, “has lost trust in government because he for sure thought government would fix this; it’s an obvious problem, but it hasn’t happened… It’s kept my kids up at night. I don’t know as a father what else to do. It’s an act of desperation to talk to you now.” His son spoke to the Common Council, but “it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. It’s upsetting as a father.”
Carreon said his son can’t sleep on some school nights because of the noise from the Rock. “My son is essentially being bullied in his bedroom at night,” he said. “As a father, it’s been really upsetting.”
We contacted the developer, Mike Zimmerman for comment, he did not respond. We will add his comment to this story if it’s received.
This is part one of a Wisconsin Right Now series that will explore the Rock development. ROC Ventures operates the project at the site of a former Milwaukee County-owned landfill.
“The neighbors have been really clear. They’re not saying the guy needs to go out of business…no one’s asking for that,” Alderman Craig said. “The residents are saying that they want it just manageable would be the best way of putting it. Right now, I don’t think that this is.”
“It really sucks,” he added. “It’s not good. I understand all of the frustration from the residents.”
When he has reached out to other officials to do something, Craig said there “has been very much of a, ‘Well, nope, I can’t do anything for you'” response.
According to Craig, “I don’t know what the next route is going to be.”
“I would have never voted this in,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Patti Logsdon, who also attended the neighborhood gathering. “This has been ongoing.”
Logsdon said neighbors came to her and said: “We just want it turned down.” She said she was surprised that she “got nowhere” when she reached out to other officials.
“I want to see the businesses succeed in Franklin,” Logsdon said, but she said she wants neighbors to be happy also.
Logsdon and some others pursued a sound study that will be presented to the County Board at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The sound study cost about $200,000, she said.
“RSG’s sound monitoring study has documented various activities at the ROC which are clearly capable, as a result of their volume and nature, to annoy, irritate, and disrupt the quiet enjoyment, and disturb the sleep, of residents in Franklin and Greendale neighborhoods adjacent to the ROC during both daytime and nighttime hours,” a summary memo of the sound study’s results said. The study indicates sound can be heard two miles away with the Hawthorn Neighborhood to the west most affected.
That’s where the neighbors gathered on Friday.
Logsdon, who said there have been “hundreds” of complaints, accused the Franklin police of not taking the sound issues seriously.
The Rock’s zoning district’s sound decibel level is supposed to be 55 decibels by City of Franklin ordinance, but the project was approved with a 79-decibel limit. Logsdon and the neighbors don’t agree with how that was done.
The Franklin Police Chief Responds
Franklin Police Chief Rick Oliva responded to WRN’s request for comment saying,
“I’m sympathetic to the complaints of the neighbors but the police department has been unfairly criticized for “not doing anything” about the noise. Although people have pointed out city ordinances that state noise should be at lower levels, city officials have determined the permitted level is 79 decibels (although they changed it in May of last year to 79dbl from 7:00AM-10:00PM and 74dbl from 10PM to 7:00AM.)
The PD use to send officers to The Roc for every noise complaint. Officers were going 4-5 times some nights. Officers used hand held noise monitors to measure the decibels. They never measured noise over the allowed limits. Due to the demand on police services, the fact that we never identified a violation and the installation of permanent monitors, we no longer send officers to every noise complaint. The city implemented a new procedure for addressing noise complaints at The Roc in July of 2019. In May of last year it was made clear that the City Development Department is responsible for addressing noise complaints there. The permitted noise levels at The Roc is a policy issue, not a police issue.
(Hypothetically), It’s the same as a neighborhood complaining to us of speeding in the neighborhood because cars are going 30mph in a 40mph zone and the “police aren’t doing anything about it”. Even though 30mph may be considered too fast for the neighbors, it doesn’t mean the police can give citations to people going 30 or to tell them to slow down.”
According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, a 2017 development agreement between Franklin and The Rock owner ROC Ventures “did not specify a noise/decibel limit which would constitute a violation.” At one point, the Franklin Plan Commission did alter the permit for the movie drive-in so that sound is broadcast through an app or radio channel, despite a ROC Ventures official fighting against the plan.
The Rock’s recent events include a summer concert series, Milwaukee Milkmen baseball games, outdoor movies, and a Tacos and Tequila festival.
The Journal Sentinel article noted that the City of Franklin “has been counting anything that exceeded 74 decibels during nighttime hours (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) or 79 decibels during daytime (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) as a violation,” but Section 183-41 of Franklin’s noise ordinance says no one should cause sound “at a level between 70 dBA and 79 dBA as measured at the real property boundary of the noise source or beyond 50 feet from the noise source when operated in a public space without a permit.”
According to Urban Milwaukee, “In order for a violation to count, the sound as monitored must exceed the legal levels for 30 straight minutes.” The site reported that, in 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.”
According to Urban Milwaukee, at that time, planning staff said the developer’s proposal “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.”
Logsdon said that neighbors contacted her when she first became a county supervisor and told her, “I can’t even have my relatives sit outside.”
“All we ask is one simple thing, just please turn the noise down,” said Logsdon, who added that other cities have stadiums in neighborhoods without problems. She also cited the Lake Country Dockhounds in Oconomowoc as a development that operates without similar problems with neighbors.
“Our elected officials. That’s who I blame,” neighbor Donnella McAdams told WRN. She said there is a rap concert coming up. “The lyrics that are on there. We will be subject to that. We have 50 some kids in our neighborhood,” she said, adding that neighbors simply want the development to reposition the speakers.
Her husband said the neighbors are “being blasted out” if they want to sit on their patios.
“We’re being tortured,” Gindt added.
She said the development has affected neighbors’ quality of life, and that people’s property values and assessments have dropped. According to Gindt, people in the neighborhood believe their homes can only sell in the winter or buyers walk away. She knows of one neighbor who had an offer, but the buyer walked because of the noise.
Carreon said there were some “sloppily written ordinances.”
According to Carreon, he reported noise from the Halloween event in which there was sound “essentially of a woman being tortured and dying, and it was on loop…This has been broadcast through a residential neighborhood with children. This is the kind of thing that has happened to us.”
“We’re just asking (for) what anyone would want: we want peace in our homes, safety for our children,” he said. “I invite responsible suburban development.” But he said that would consist of a good neighborly relationship with the development that he believes doesn’t currently exist.
“We want to go back to our normal lives,” he said.
Three years ago, Carreon wrote city officials to express similar complaints, “I am asking you as a father to please help our family and help protect them in any way you can from the noise that we hear from our homes at night.”
Neighbor Bob Knoll, a retired attorney, said, “We built this house 50 years ago. It was a quiet, quiet neighborhood. We wanted to be away from all of the noise. There was a field back there. We were told that was unbuildable land, which is why we picked this lot.”
“It’s gotten horrific. The noise from the stadium is just unbelievable,” he said. “It will drive you nuts. Sitting in the house trying to listen to the TV in the family room and you hear this boom, boom from the umbrella bar that is just really annoying. We’re trying to deal with it. It’s a fabulous development, but it could be a better neighbor.”
Indeed, the development is an impressive conglomeration of bars, the baseball field, a driving range, and other establishments gleaming in the distance.
Knoll said the Rock’s “sound is just really aggravating, really annoying.”
His wife, Naomi Knoll, said she gets a schedule from the baseball games so she knows when she can entertain on the patio “because the noise is so irritating and so loud.”
“We’ve been fighting this for almost a decade,” neighbor John McAdams said. “It’s been nothing but chaos in our lives. Now we have total noise disruption. It’s so annoying. We’ve been trying to deal with this peacefully. We are just completely frustrated, to no avail.”
His wife Donnella McAdams said they were outside doing yard work on Memorial Day but “can’t enjoy anything because all we hear is cowbells, ‘Sweet Caroline,’ it’s ridiculous.” She said she called the new mayor and invited him to come have a beer so he could see how bad it was. She said he didn’t accept.
“Nothing has happened. And that’s from our current mayor and our previous mayor,” she said.
“On a lot of weekends and weeknights, you’re constantly hearing that bass through your windows while you’re trying to enjoy time with your family or watch TV,” Kleist told WRN.
“It’s like someone’s parked right outside your house and they’re just blasting their stereo constantly. When you’re trying to enjoy the backyard and hang out with your friends and family, you also hear a lot of the band music going on,” Kleist said. “Nine times this summer, they had fireworks that were going on as well. It’s hard to enjoy yourself and relax when you have all this background noise constantly going on, especially when you don’t want to participate in it.”
Kleist said “There are concerts every Saturday from June to the end of September. There are the Milkmen games starting in April through October, and there are Halloween events….with chainsaw, sound effects, and bass noises blasting through all of the neighborhoods.”
He lives in Greendale a mile and a half away. “This sound really carries a far distance from the source,” Kleist said.
“I constantly hear the noise coming right down the street into my house there,” Kleist added.
The neighbors estimated hundreds of homeowners were affected in a two-mile radius around the stadium.
“Your largest investment in your life is usually your home. I thought this would be my forever home,” said neighbor Dana Gindt. “This has really devastated my life. It’s stressful. My children can’t sleep. You can’t even watch TV without turning it off. It’s just extraordinary how long this has been going on.” She said she lives over a half mile from the Rock.
Neighbors said constantly having to go to city meetings to no avail has also disrupted their lives. In March 2023, Gindt “addressed the Board regarding the Rock in Franklin and how the Franklin Police don’t respond to sound complaints and having a poor quality of life due to the sound,” city documents say.
“This is for 130 days a year,” Gindt added.
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