Environmental standards may guide redesign

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

A City Council majority directed staff members to investigate potential impacts, but 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.

Councilors are scheduled to decide whether to approve the controversial Plaza redesign at its Aug. 21 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. 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 the planned low concrete walls would provide additional seating room and would protect Plaza landscaping.

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

Carrying out the Plaza redesign could cost $227,322, although officials said having city employees do some of the work would lower the price tag.

The Ashland Conservation Commission had asked the council to address environmental impacts and sustainability issues in the redesign. The commission recommended the city use guidelines from the Sustainable Sites Initiative, which was developed by groups that include the American Society of Landscape Architects and encourages sustainable practices in landscape design, construction, operations and maintenance.

The guidelines include limiting the use of potable water for landscape irrigation, using native plants, reducing urban heat effects, reusing salvaged material and plants, maintaining existing concrete and landscaping, promoting equitable use of a site by people, providing outdoor spaces for social interaction, limiting exposure to cigarette smoke and avoiding sending demolished material to landfills.

City Administrator Dave Kanner said many of the guidelines — such as controlling erosion on sites — are already required by Oregon law. Other guidelines wouldn't apply, such as limiting development on prime farmland and protecting endangered species.

He said he could ask Covey Pardee Landscape Architects, who created the new design, to review the guidelines and offer opinions on how they would impact the project.

Councilor Carol Voisin, liaison to the Conservation Commission, said the commission did not wish to hinder the project.

"The commission is not attempting to be obstructionist or to block the redesign," she said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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