They came out in droves Monday night, braving the rain, filling the parking lot, packing the council chambers and spilling out into the entry room, umbrellas in hand.
And it was all for a pink door.
The controversy over the pink door and façade at Grandma Linda’s Ice Cream shop, located on the Plaza at 408 First St. E., has animated Sonoma to such a degree that some have asked what, exactly, all the fuss is about.
“I have lived in Sonoma since 1977 and the things folks complain about have amazed me over the years,” commented Laura Davis Szanyi on the Index-Tribune’s website.
Nonetheless, council members, hearing an appeal of the color at their regular meeting Monday, made it clear that they took the issue seriously and had given it much thought. And as Mayor Pro Tem David Cook put it, “This is not about the pink door.”
For Cook and other city leaders, the real issue was a lack of clarity in the city code when it comes to exterior colors and other design features. That shade of pink – which the shop’s owners call “cerise delight” – had been considered and approved by the city’s Design Review and Historic Preservation Commission on Dec. 17, over protests from some residents who said it undermines downtown Sonoma’s historic character.
“We probably need to set some standards on the Plaza,” Cook said Monday, adding, “The pink door does not bother me. I’m going to vote tonight to keep the pink door.”
He was in the majority, with the council voting 4-1 to reject the appeal – effectively siding with shop owners Dawn and Troy Marmaduke. Councilmember Steve Barbose, who cast the only “no” vote, said he would have approved the color on a provisional basis until the city agreed on a color palette for its historic structures.
But he added, “The Marmadukes should not have to pay for anything. … Because the city didn’t do right by you.”
The vote came after more than two-dozen locals queued up in the standing-room-only chamber to make their voices heard. Some commented on the color, some said they supported small business, and a few said the issue should never have come up in the first place.
“This really upsets me,” said Rosemary Pedroncelli. “It’s taking a lot of time and money from the city. You folks approved it first, didn’t you? Well, these other people, excuse me, sometimes they’ve got nothing else to do except cause trouble.” Her speech ended in cheers and applause.
But Johanna Patri, one of the dozen Sonoma or Sonoma Valley residents who signed the appeal, disagreed, saying Sonoma must take steps to “preserve the dignity and integrity” of its historic downtown.
Patri said the design review commission’s December vote was improper, because commissioners failed to make their consideration “not only on the basis of design review, but on the basis of historic preservation.” The commission, she said, was “effectively announcing that any historic building … can sport any color the owner of a business wants.”
One of those commissioners, Kelso Barnett, wrote an extensive memo to council members in which he quoted a scientific study that determined that “Modern paint analysis reveals historical colors were often surprisingly bright, like Thomas Jefferson’s ‘chrome yellow.’ Many people maintain the mistaken impression that our ancestors lived in a world of muted and ‘tasteful’ shades, but by the 19th and early 20th century, color choices expanded exponentially.”
Barnett couldn’t attend Monday’s meeting. But another commissioner, Leslie Tippell – an architectural designer by trade whose office is located above the ice cream shop in question – did attend, and told council members that, “In my professional opinion … with the plum stone, the pink door, the lovely glass tiles, aesthetically I think it looks very nice.”
The Marmadukes have been running an ice cream store at that location for years as a Ben & Jerry’s. Recently they decided to drop the franchise and rebrand the business Grandma Linda’s, named after Troy Marmaduke’s mother.
Joanne Sanders, a former Sonoma mayor, said the current debate is a “terrific time to evaluate the fairness and consistency in the (city’s) guidelines.”
She noted that the city of Sonoma has a special designation due to its historic value, and suggested, “We need to arm staff with training on how to carry out this local government designation … so we don’t have this kind of embarrassing situation” in the future.
Council members worked up to a similar conclusion. Barbose began with thoughtful remarks on what it means to be “historic” in a world where tastes evolve over time. And he said people who dismissed the appeal as frivolous were missing the point.
“I agree with the people who say change is part of life. … But one of those changes might just be we have a growing recognition of the importance of historic designation,” he said. “The change that has come upon us is that we now realize what a special place this is, and that we have to take care of it, and be good stewards of it.”
With that in mind, Barbose said, “I would like to see an effort to develop a palette for Sonoma.” The choices don’t need to be “everybody paint any color they want to, or everything’s gray,” he said, and suggested the city hire a consultant to help develop a palette that is appropriate for Sonoma’s history and character.
Councilmember Laurie Gallian expressed support for the idea, noting, “This is the future of what this (design review) commission will be charged with.”
While Councilmember Ken Brown warned, “The true character of the fabric of our town is much deeper than the paint on a façade, “ he did agree that “there needs to be clarity” for commissioners and business owners.
“I am not enamored of the concept of having a definitive palette here,” he said, “but I am supportive of a study session” with all parties and a consultant present.
Mayor Tom Rouse closed the discussion by saying that while he doesn’t love the color, “I for one do not believe that the pink door is challenging to the integrity of the Plaza.”
“Tonight has brought the subject forward, to the top if you will, that perhaps there should be some kind of color palette,” he said. “Procedurally maybe we need to be a little more specific about what is right and what is wrong” for the historic Plaza.