Old buildings, new buildings and public art on agendas

It’s all about buildings at the Ashland City Council study session on Monday night. One building, the current City Hall, is being reviewed to determine its actual existence. Recent seismic studies show the building would not survive a large quake. 

To repair it would cost in excess of $3.6 million, according to city records. “The necessary seismic upgrades would involve removing the roof, the second floor and all of the drywall on the interior of the north and west walls, then building a system of ties and braces to secure the building,” according to city staff reports. 

The staff report concludes rebuilding “exceeds the cost of simply demolishing and rebuilding city hall.” 

Other options include building a second story on the planning building on Winburn Way or starting over and putting both City Hall offices and planning offices in a building to be constructed on Lithia Way and North Pioneer Street, where there's now a public parking lot. The current buildings would be sold at market value. 

The council will also look over the rules for public art in Ashland. Public art continues to be controversial with every project receiving public oversight and approvals. Councilors will consider lessening the load of approvals by taking public art out of the site Design Development Review process, which is primarily designed for construction and development, as opposed to public art. 

“The change takes public art out of the legal parameters intended for development, removes the requirement for PAC (public art commission) to be a land use applicant and reduces staff time by removing the notice requirements and preparation of written findings,” according to staff recommendations. 

The Historic Commission and all other city commissions which currently review public art, as deemed necessary, would continue to do so, as would the Ashland City Council, according to the suggestion to be discussed in the study session. 

According to the city staff the change would streamline the public art process without hampering public review of projects. “The Public Art Commission will provide artist concept(s) to all City Commissions for review. City Commissions may review the artist concept(s) using their existing powers and criteria, and in their advisory role, provide written input for consideration by the City Council. City Commission may not participate in the creative design process. The Historic Commission shall review public art proposed on structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on contributing properties within a Historic District.” 

Initial concerns raised in previous study sessions hinged around the Historic Commission wishing to remain a part of the recommending body should public art affect historic buildings and places. This suggestion would keep that as a part of the process. 

At Tuesday's business meeting, the City Council will have two major considerations left over from the last session: one would be to consider changes to the Verde Village housing project where developers are asking permission to build larger houses than initially discussed and to put in more fencing between houses. Developers also plan on creating a zero energy footprint with the use of solar and other sustainable practices. The change in housing comes, according to developers, from looking at the design and seeing that houses faced away from each other and garages appeared to be prominent features which takes away from community, according to the builders presentation to council. 

That is scheduled to be reconsidered, as well as a ballot measure directing the 2017 legislature to address Oregon Healthcare options which was brought forward by Health Care for All Oregon. The group wants the council to allow the measure on the ballot directing lawmakers to study and create legislation which makes healthcare accessible and affordable for every Oregon resident. The group claims The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, does not adequately do that. The city recorder, however, has requested the item be postponed until the July 19 meeting, a request councilors will vote on at the meeting.

The council is also due to vote on which of two public art proposals to install on the Gateway Island at the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street, between the Ashland Public Library and Fire & Rescue Station No. 1. A years-long selection process wrapped up in September with a special committee selecting "Gather" by Susan Zoccola. When the proposal finally came before the City Council in January, it voted to ask Zoccola for a second proposal from which to choose. 

A display of both concepts, "Gather" and "Threshold," is on display at the Ashland library. Zoccola will give a presentation both at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 21, at the Ashland Art Center, 375 East Main St., and again at the council meeting.

The council meets for its study session, which is open to the public, at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 20, in the Siskiyou Room of the planning offices, 51 Winburn Way. The regular session of the Ashland City Council starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, 1175 East Main St.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

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