ASHLAND — The City Council has approved a controversial plan to give the downtown Plaza a makeover.

ASHLAND — The City Council has approved a controversial plan to give the downtown Plaza a makeover.

"In the long run, this is going to be a better transition than people fear," said Councilman Mike Morris, who voted to approve the design Tuesday night along with council members Greg Lemhouse, Dennis Slattery and Russ Silbiger.

Councilors David Chapman and Carol Voisin voted against the plan.

Lawn areas will be replaced with shrubs and ground-cover plants that will then be protected with low concrete walls. The walls will also protect Plaza trees.

Comfortable but worn stand-alone wooden benches will be removed, but several benches with backs will be built into the concrete walls.

A few large trees that are suffering will be gradually replaced over time with tree species more suited to tight urban environments.

Three new trees will be planted on the Plaza to provide shade.

Concrete underfoot will be replaced with pavers that will allow rainwater to filter through while creating a pleasing pattern, according to Covey Pardee Landscape Architects, which crafted the plan with public input.

The estimated cost to carry out the Plaza redesign is $170,000, which includes a contingency budget. The work is scheduled to begin in January 2013.

The Plaza redesign has been debated all summer, with some people saying it will make the area more durable and able to withstand the heavy use it receives. Others have said the redesigned Plaza won't be comfortable and welcoming, and the cost is too high.

Among other concerns, Chapman and Voisin said the design doesn't fit in with Ashland's historic downtown. They said the concrete seating walls look like they belong on a college campus.

"It's just the wrong style for that area," Chapman said.

Councilors agreed that the Plaza has become worn from heavy use, but disagreed on what the best solution is for that problem.

Mayor John Stromberg, who votes only to break ties, said the councilors and members of the public who shared their differing opinions at Tuesday's meeting had made valid points.

He said he wasn't completely happy with the Plaza redesign, but the current state of the site was a discredit to the community.

"It just can't stay the way it is," Stromberg said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.