Residents offered mixed views on a proposed redesign of Ashland's downtown Plaza, with many voicing concerns about the loss of comfortable bench seating.

Residents offered mixed views on a proposed redesign of Ashland's downtown Plaza, with many voicing concerns about the loss of comfortable bench seating.

The draft plan, created by local firm Covey Pardee Landscape Architects, calls for covering more of the Plaza with concrete or pavers to alleviate the problem of crowds trampling the lawn and landscaping.

The concrete or pavers would form a circle in the center of the Plaza with lines radiating out. The circle would suggest a staging area for live music or other acts.

Some trees would be protected with ground-level grates, while others would be surrounded by low concrete walls that would double as seating.

Large trees that are suffering on the Plaza gradually would be replaced with tree species that thrive in confined urban settings.

Covey Pardee presented the plan for public comments Monday night. Audience members said they disliked the idea of sitting on concrete walls instead of benches or other seating with back support. Wooden benches now on the Plaza are weathered and prone to vandalism.

Ashland resident Melissa Orion said concrete walls would look too modern and wouldn't fit in with Ashland's historic downtown. She said wooden benches with iron scrollwork would be more appealing.

She also worried that the seating walls would be uncomfortable for older people and would cause more young people and transients to hang out on the Plaza.

"There's a lot of transient, nomadic energy there," Orion said. "It's not portraying Ashland well as a tourist attraction."

Orion is helping to restore a trolley in Ashland and proposed installing the trolley on the Plaza for use as an information center.

Resident Keith Haxton, an advocate for homeless people's rights, agreed that the seating walls look uncomfortable. He wants people from all walks of life to feel welcome on the Plaza.

"I see people eat lunch out there when they're on break and it just doesn't seem very comfortable," he said, in reference to the seating walls.

Haxton also disliked all the hard concrete surfaces.

"This is a skateboarder's heaven," Haxton said, warning that the design could attract more illegal skateboarding on the Plaza.

Covey Pardee principal Alan Pardee said the walls would boost seating capacity to 70 or 80 people, compared to the 15 to 20 people who can sit on the benches now.

"It's not one of our goals to exclude any segment of the population," Pardee said.

Resident Michael Dawkins said the concrete seating walls could be comfortable if they are built at the right height. He also welcomed changes to the landscaping and agreed with the recommendation to remove large ash and liquidambar (sweet gum) trees.

"People will probably want to chain themselves to the liquidambar trees, but we should get over it," Dawkins said.

Several people said they would like to see the street closed off on the side of the Plaza that is closest to the Rogue Valley Transportation District bus shelter. The plaza could then be expanded into that street space, they said.

Tinkering with the traffic that moves around the Plaza is not part of the project, and some people have said they want the traffic pattern to remain unchanged.

Representatives from the Lithia Artisans Market — which operates on weekends on the Calle Guanajuato behind Plaza businesses — said they are hidden away and would like to relocate to an enlarged Plaza.

That would give artisans a better shot at financial survival, representatives said.

Market Manager Marcus Scott said Ashland should follow European and Latin American models for public spaces in which vendors, musicians, residents and tourists all mix together.

However, resident Mark Knox said, "I don't agree with commercializing the Plaza in any way, shape or form."

He said the Plaza should be a place for relaxation. He advocated installing public art in the surface of the Plaza, noting that he had seen hopscotch patterns and footprints showing dance steps in other cities.

Covey Pardee principal Greg Covey said there could be many opportunities for installing mosaics or other public art in the surfaces on the Plaza.

Different styles of pavers, including permeable pavers, could also enliven the space, he said.

Unlike concrete, permeable pavers allow rain to trickle through to the ground, reducing storm-water runoff and watering tree roots.

The City Council is scheduled to informally discuss the plan during a 5:30 p.m. study session on Monday in the Community Development Department and Engineering Services Building's Siskiyou Room at 51 Winburn Way.

The redesign will come before the City Council for more public input and a council decision at a future meeting, possibly in early August, according to city staff.

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