Ashland looks at applying sustainability standards to Plaza plan

The city of Ashland will investigate how incorporating sustainability standards into a proposed redesign of the downtown Plaza could affect the project.

During a Tuesday night meeting, an Ashland City Council majority directed city staff members to investigate potential impacts.

A council majority stopped short of immediately agreeing to incorporate sustainability standards, citing a lack of knowledge about potential costs and whether the standards would delay the project.

"I don't know enough about it to say, 'Yes, incorporate it into the plan,'" City Councilor Greg Lemhouse said.

Councilors are scheduled to decide whether to approve the controversial Plaza redesign during a meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21, in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Many residents have spoken out against the redesign, saying it uses too much concrete and would eliminate comfortable bench seating. Others have said low concrete walls that are planned would provide additional seating room and would protect Plaza landscaping.

Some large trees that are suffering in the tight urban environment would be gradually removed and replaced with different tree species. Lawn areas would be reduced.

Carrying out the Plaza redesign could cost $227,322, although city officials believe the price could be lower if city employees do some of the work.

At a July 25 meeting, the Ashland Conservation Commission voted to ask the City Council to address environmental impacts and sustainability issues related to the Plaza redesign.

The commission recommended that the city use guidelines from The Sustainable Sites Initiative. The initiative — developed by groups that include the American Society of Landscape Architects — encourages sustainable practices in landscape design, construction, operations and maintenance.

A 200-plus page document details guidelines for incorporating the sustainable practices.

Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner said many of the guidelines — such as controlling erosion on sites — are already required by Oregon law and others wouldn't apply to the Plaza redesign project.

He said he can ask Covey Pardee Landscape Architects, the firm that crafted the Plaza redesign plan, to review the guidelines and offer opinions on how they could impact the project.

— Vickie Aldous

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