The Ashland Downtown Beautification Committee has recommended the addition of decorative pavers, planters and added landscaping to the downtown Plaza following a controversial reconstruction there.
Residents unhappy with the reconstruction that wrapped up in the spring of 2013 have said the project left the Plaza with unattractive dark gray pavers and too little greenery. Lawn areas and several trees suffering in the heavily-trafficked space were removed and replaced with new trees and landscaping. Low concrete seating walls, benches and mosaics also were added.
This summer, a tall maple that had been left on the site died, likely a victim of the reconstruction project.
At a late July meeting, the Downtown Beautification Committee voted to recommend a variety of downtown improvements, including Plaza enhancements. The Ashland City Council will review the recommendations at a Sept. 16 council meeting.
The committee favors adding free-standing planters to the Plaza that could hold colorful flowers or other plants. The Plaza already has light posts with brackets for hanging flower baskets, but the city didn't hang the baskets in order to conserve water in the face of this summer's drought. Colorful pennants hang from the brackets for now.
The committee also recommended adding taller plants and decorative fencing to landscaped areas on the east and west sides of the Plaza that continue to be trampled by pedestrians.
A circular area of dark gray pavers would be replaced with decorative pavers near the center of the Plaza, but most of the dark gray pavers would be left intact.
The decorative pavers would cost $15,000, while the free-standing planters with irrigation lines, additional plants for landscaping and decorative fencing would together cost $15,500, said city of Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer said.
David Sherr, a member of Petitioners for Restoration of the Plaza, said he would like to see all the pavers replaced with lighter, more colorful pavers.
Digging out all the current pavers and replacing them with pavers of a different color would cost about $35,000, according to 2013 city staff research.
"The Plaza is an inferno on hot days," he said. "I believe hot, dark pavers were purposefully chosen to discourage people from lingering on the Plaza — certain people such as the homeless."
Sherr said if all the pavers aren't replaced, in the short term at least the circular pattern of pavers and popular pedestrian routes through the Plaza should be redone with light pavers that would reflect the heat of the sun and help cool those areas.
Sherr said replacing some of the pavers and adding miscellaneous enhancements to the Plaza like the planters will create a hodge-podge look.
"I think there's a certain degree of embarrassment. They can't bring themselves to change all the pavers so they're just going to muddle along," he said.
In public meetings to discuss the design of the Plaza reconstruction, people were shown design sketches with salmon-colored pavers. But after a subcommittee of the Ashland Public Arts Commission said gray pavers would better offset mosaics planned for the site, dark gray pavers were installed — to the surprise of many city officials and residents.
"Initially, I was really offended by the gray pavers," said Downtown Beautification Committee member Michael Dawkins, who attended many of the meetings in which the Plaza reconstruction design was discussed. "After a while, it wasn't as big a deal."
Dawkins said the committee didn't consider replacing all the pavers because of the cost. A council majority had previously said it also didn't want to replace all the pavers.
"The Downtown Beautification Committee said, ‘We have better places to use the money,’" he said.
Dawkins said he is troubled by the personal attacks that have been made against city staff by residents who dislike the redesigned Plaza.
"It's not like there was a conspiracy," he said, noting that the move to use dark gray pavers was made innocently without a full understanding of the uproar that would ensue once people saw how they actually looked installed over the Plaza's expanse.
Dawkins said he would still like to see moveable tables and chairs put out on the Plaza so people could chat face-to-face, eat lunch there or play chess. That would also make the dark gray pavers less noticeable and fulfill one stated aim of the reconstruction, which was to make the Plaza feel like Ashland's living room.
"If you have a brand new empty house and you look at the rooms you see the carpet and walls. Once you put in furniture, you don't really notice the carpet as much," he said.
Although the Downtown Beautification Committee didn't vote to recommend adding tables and chairs for now, City Councilor Pam Marsh has been a strong advocate for the outdoor furniture.
"Excuse the pun, but my feeling is tables and chairs are still very much ‘on the table,’" Dawkins said.
Logistical problems remain about who would take the tables and chairs in at night, or whether they would be left outside at the mercy of thieves and vandals. Those issues previously caused a majority of council members to say they weren't interested in tables and chairs.
Each set of one table and two chairs would cost $475. The committee had discussed a dozen sets on the Plaza, for a total of $5,700, Seltzer said.
Other cities that leave tables and chairs out end up losing about 30 percent each year, Dawkins said.
Sherr said it wouldn't make sense to put out tables and chairs if they didn't also have umbrellas.
"Who is going to sit out in the hot sun with no shade?" he asked.
In addition to recommending Plaza enhancements, the Downtown Beautification Committee recommended improving landscaping at a city-owned parking lot along Lithia Way at a cost of $31,000, improving a planter area near Winburn Way and North Main Street for $6,000, installing public art for $18,000 on an alley wall near Starbucks, and improving the uneven surface around a corner at Lithia Way and Pioneer Street for $15,500.
The improvements would be paid for with city hotel tax revenue. If approved by the council, the projects would be completed by the end of June 2015, Seltzer said.
The Downtown Beautification Committee previously approved a batch of quick-fix projects such as new signs welcoming people to town. It will continue to identify long-term projects that would be done by the end of June 2017, Seltzer said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.