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City considers adding color to downtown

August 19, 2014 | 03:41 PM
The Lake Geneva Plan Commission is considering breaking the color barrier.

The commission began discussions Monday on revising a 1997 ordinance that bans certain colors and finishes from downtown facades.

Shiny is definitely out. The existing ordinances don’t like shiny colors or finishes.

Fluourescent and neon-inspired colors are not allowed.

And basic colors, such as pure reds, yellows, blues and greens are forbidden.

Mayor Jim Connors said that although the ordinance number indicates it was passed in 1997, he said he suspects that the color line may have existed as part of the city rules even earlier than that.

City Attorney Dan Draper said he believes the rules were established to preserve the historic appearance of the downtown.

But like all well-intentioned rules, there comes the one exception that creates a hue-and-cry.

Connors said the issue that jump started the plan commission’s re-examination of its official color code was the new Brick & Mortar Home and Outdoor, 222 (or 230) Center St.

Store owners Thomas and Kathy George completely redid the former I Love Funky’s store, replacing dark, almost goth-like colors with a lighter, airier white and gray exterior.

And Kathy George said in a Regional News interview that she wanted red awnings.

And for a while, the store had red awnings.

That is, until the city building inspector realized that the striking red awnings exceeded the city ordinances’s tolerances for basic colors on downtown business buildings.

The tug of war between the city and the Georges caught residents’ attention, who wondered why such a nice architectural touch like red awnings would be illegal in Lake Geneva.

The awnings are still there, but camouflaged by drab gray coverings.

Connors said he believes that a city ordinance must either be followed, or, if it’s become unpopular, be changed.

Plan commissioners are seeking a standard they can use to define what colors are allowed and what should continue to be banned.

Connors said he personally wants to see black removed from the banned list, although he thinks that fluorescent and neon colors should remain banned.

“If someone comes in with cherry blossom red, is that a primary color?” asked Alderman Al Kupsik, who sits on the commission. Kupsik added he didn’t think it was a primary color.

The name of the color doesn’t matter, said City Planner Michael Slaveny of Vandewalle & Associates, Madison. Different catalogs use the same names for different colors, he said.

Slavney said there are color scales that attempt to define colors and their gradiants.

One such system is called CMYK for cyan (blue), magenta, yellow and key (black). The system is derived from printing, in which the key plate laid down the black outlines that defined a color image.

Colors with such exotic names as piglet snout, burlywood and conch all have values based on the percentage of each of the CMYK colors used in each hue.

Because of the way the CMYK system is set up, red is not just one color on the CMYK scale, said Slavney. Meanwhile, yellow certainly is.

Unfortunately, the color numbers jump around, meaning every prohibited color would have to be identified individually, Slavney said.

Actual change in the city’s color ordinance may not be possible for several months.

An amended ordinance must be written, reviewed by the city attorney, presented to the plan commission for review, then, after a prescribed waiting period, go to public hearing before the plan commission.

The plan commission considers the public hearing testimony, then either recommends for or against the proposed ordinance to the city council, for final action, said Connors.

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