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Letters, Feb. 24

Clarify City Hall bond

Before the Ashland City Council crafts the final wording of its new bond measure, it must definitively answer one question: Is it asking voters to pay for the renovation of City Hall, or is it asking us to pay for its demolition? These are two radically different outcomes.

The beauty of our historic downtown is far more important to the average Ashlander than the exact location and facilities of municipal offices. For people sitting and chatting in the Plaza, for the merchants whose businesses face it, for the tourists who stroll though it and the film crews that use it as a set, it is the historic look and feel of our downtown that matters. Now the council is finalizing its plans to place a bond issue on the ballot that could radically transform the center of our downtown ... or not. As a voter, I want to know which.

From my perspective, if the city is unwilling to live with its current facilities, and unwilling to respectfully renovate the existing structure — if it absolutely must have a bigger modern edifice — it should build it elsewhere. Currently, most public meetings are held at Council Chambers on Main Street, not at Ashland City Hall. The city owns plenty of land at that site — a place with no historical preservation conflicts and lower construction costs. In the past, the town has discussed and rejected the possibility of using either of the two former elementary schools that remain in public hands, though this still seems better than razing an 1891 building in the middle of downtown.

We might ask whether the City Council would allow a private landowner to tear down another historic building on the Plaza. I doubt it. Would the council issue an open-ended permit to “either retrofit or demolish” it? I think not. And yet, this is exactly the kind of ambiguous permission that voters may be asked to grant in the upcoming election.

The notion that an unclear (or even deceptive) measure can be excused by the urgency of meeting filing deadlines is flawed. There is no rush, and the council should choose carefully. Once we destroy our historic district, we cannot get it back. We can wait for another election and another budget cycle if we must.

In the meantime, unless the final wording of the measure is absolutely clear, I would urge all voters — regardless of their attitude toward historic preservation — to reject it. We have a right to know what we are voting for. After all, it’s our $8.2 million.

Sean McEnroe


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