Among the dozen items on tonight’s Zoning Adjustments Board meeting agenda is the seemingly uncontentious proposal to establish a new ice cream parlor on Solano Avenue. Robin Dalrymple, who has lived in Berkeley since working in a downtown restaurant in the early ’70s, wants to open iScream at 1819 Solano, next door to Mechanics Bank and just down from Peet’s and Nature’s Express.  Everyone likes ice cream, don’t they?

For the most part, the answer is yes. But the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association is seeking modified approval for the store. The problem, explains TONA vice-president (and Berkeleyside contributor) Jane Tierney, is not the proposed ice cream parlor. It’s that the local quota for “food service establishments” in the neighborhood is 12, but there are already 28 operating.

“Everyone wants the ice cream place,” Tierney says. “But the issue for us is why do we have quotas if they’re not going to enforce them?” Tierney believes that neighborhood associations are put in the invidious position of being obstructive because the council doesn’t want the “open debate” that examining the quota system would entail. “It’s a political sleight of hand,” she says. In the case of iScream, TONA is concerned that a different kind of restaurant could be grandfathered in on the site if the permit is granted without restrictions.

A local listserv is circulating a message (subject line: “ice cream is nice!”) encouraging residents to go to tonight’s meeting in support of iScream. Their pitch: “Believe it or not, there are people opposed to the idea of an ice cream store two doors down from Peet’s. I don’t think any of them are students at Thousand Oaks or King Middle School. This is the tastiest civics lesson I’ve seen in a long time!  Anyway, maybe we’ll go to the public hearing, maybe we’ll make compelling posters and email jpegs of them to the planning department?”

The planning department has recommended approval of the project, since iScream will fill a segment of the market that is not served by any of the other 28 food businesses in the neighborhood. Solano currently has a large number of vacant commercial properties. Dalrymple’s own statement to the planning department emphasizes the loss of family-oriented local places: “I remember picking my kids up from school and going to Ortman’s (now Starbucks) for a milkshake to celebrate good report cards. Coffee houses, for the most part, have replaced those places.” Dalrymple’s oldest daughter will be the ice cream maker and her younger daughters, students at Berkeley High, will be dipping and serving.

If iScream’s plan is approved, it will be the only ice cream parlor in the Berkeley part of Solano. Given the popularity of Ici on College Avenue in the Elmwood, and the crowded competition for ice cream and froyo downtown and in the Gourmet Ghetto, iScream may well have found a good market niche.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...