A pink too far?

It’s not that it’s pink – it’s that particular shade of pink.

So say a dozen Sonoma residents unhappy with the front door and façade of Grandma Linda’s, an ice cream shop on the Plaza with a new name and colorful makeover.

Too colorful for some locals, who say that shade of pink (the shop owners call it “cerise delight”) runs counter to downtown Sonoma’s historical feel – even though it was indeed approved by the Design Review and Historic Preservation Commission on Dec. 17.

“It’s too garish for this town,” explained Sonoma resident Fred Burger.

He and 11 other people have appealed the commission’s decision, paying $100 and submitting a written explanation as part of the process. The Sonoma City Council is set to hear their appeal on March 3.

According to the critics, city code (updated just a few weeks before the Dec. 17 decision) requires the commission to “safeguard the historic character” of the Plaza and downtown – something they believe three of the commission’s five members failed to do when the color was approved in a 3-2 vote.

They also say the ice cream shop’s owners, Dawn and Troy Marmaduke, submitted an incomplete application when they did not provide a backup color in case the commission didn’t like cerise delight.

Wendy Atkins, associate planner with the city’s Planning Department, confirmed that the Marmadukes did not submit a backup color as city staff recommended. But she also pointed out that, “The design review committee ultimately approved the pink color,” adding, “It’s always commission discretion.”

“There isn’t an approved color scheme for any properties within the city of Sonoma,” Atkins said – meaning there’s nothing in the rules specifically barring cerise delight.

She said that whenever business owners want to paint an exterior, they first go to city planners, who help guide them through the commission review process. “We give them some feedback and we let them know it’s a good idea to provide some color schemes” in case the first color choice isn’t approved.

“Any time paint is proposed, we let them know (if) it’s been contentious in the past,” Atkins added. The last time this happened was a very similar situation: Last year, Top That Yogurt wanted to put some pink detail around the storefront door and windows at its 531 Broadway location.

In that case, too, the owners went through the Planning Department. “Because it was pink, staff encouraged the applicant to come back with an alternate (color) proposal,” Atkins said. “And they did not.”

And yet, Top That Yogurt got the color approved anyway.

So too in the case of Grandma Linda’s Ice Cream Shop: “There was never a backup color – but the commission said OK anyway,” Atkins recalled.

The Marmadukes have operated an ice cream shop on the Plaza at 408 First St. E. for a few years, but it was always a Ben & Jerry’s franchise. Then in October, they successfully disenfranchised and reopened as an independent.

Dawn Marmaduke returned a call over the weekend, but was not immediately available on Monday to talk about the issue. In an open letter to the City Council, which ran earlier this month in the Index-Tribune, she wrote that the December meeting “was a thoughtful discussion/review between us and the commission, and in the end we all agreed with the illustration we presented. We left this meeting feeling like it was productive and fair.”

She also wrote, “The shop is named after my husband’s mother, who passed away too young with ALS. She was the most wonderful grandma to our kids. The ice cream shop will be in memory of her and a celebration of all grandmas.” That color of pink was said to be Grandma Linda’s favorite.

“So they’re pulling on our heartstrings,” said Burger, who believes that the color is just plain wrong for the Plaza.

“I think a more subdued color would be more in keeping with what the Plaza’s all about,” he said. “This looks more like Disneyland.”

He also believed that allowing it could lead to more bright colors on the Plaza, because, “They’ll have an excuse. ‘You let this guy do it, I want to do it too.’”

Other appellants also had been willing to discuss their position – but then the issue started heating up. One person refused to comment on the record, citing anger over previous comments that appeared in news reports.