Debate over Ashland's downtown Plaza has erupted on Facebook, with opponents of a proposed redesign launching a page called "Preserve Ashland's Historic Plaza."

Debate over Ashland's downtown Plaza has erupted on Facebook, with opponents of a proposed redesign launching a page called "Preserve Ashland's Historic Plaza."

Lisa Stanley, who grew up in Ashland and now lives in White City, began posting her concerns about the Plaza redesign on a long-standing Facebook page called "You know you're from Ashland when ..."

Her posts unleashed a flurry of comments from people both opposed to and supportive of the redesign.

That prompted Stanley to create her own Facebook page devoted exclusively to the Plaza issue.

Crystal Redding, who splits her time between Ashland and Washington state, also helped launch the page.

The soonest the Ashland City Council could make a decision about whether to move forward on the redesign is September.

Stanley said she has stood silently by while many aspects of her hometown have changed. But she wanted to take action on the Plaza issue.

"It comes down to passion, and feeling an obligation to make a difference after I've been silent for so long," Stanley said. "There's a lot of nostalgia for what Ashland used to be."

Many residents have said that the proposed redesign includes too much concrete, eliminates too much lawn area and is too expensive. They also dislike the idea of replacing worn wooden benches with low concrete walls for seating, saying that will do nothing to dissuade homeless people from loitering and will instead attract more illegal skateboarding.

Some also question a proposal to take out several large Plaza trees that tree experts say should be replaced with species suited to tight urban spaces.

Many residents and former residents have been venting their frustrations about the design via Facebook.

At the same time, others have questioned why many of the critics didn't attend any of the four public workshops the city has held over the past few months to gather comments.

People who did attend the workshops voiced mixed reactions to the redesign.

A few council members have taken part in the Facebook discussions.

Councilman Russ Silbiger said he is in favor of fixing up the Plaza, which he said has become rundown, but objects to the potential price tag.

Preliminary estimates put the cost at $227,322, although City Administrator Dave Kanner has said the price could be lower if city employees carry out some of the on-the-ground work.

Via Facebook, Silbiger assured people that the historic Iron Mike statue and lithia water fountains will remain untouched. He also included information on how people could access details about the redesign on the city's website.

"The reason I initially broke my silence was to respond to the factual inaccuracies," Silbiger said in an interview. "One of the delights of these types of forums is that sometimes you're reading stuff that isn't true."

As for whether the Facebook discussions will have any impact on the Plaza's fate, Silbiger said he and at least one or two other council members are reading the Facebook postings.

"We get emails and phone calls and people talk to us at the grocery store. We hear things at public meetings and City Council meetings. Whether one method is more or less influential, it's hard to say," Silbiger said.

In a Facebook post, Councilman Mike Morris invited people to meet with him to discuss the redesign.

Stanley said her Facebook page provides a forum for people to express their views and learn about the issue.

"Facebook is a more modern way and it reaches a different audience," she said.

Facebook commentators have both attacked and defended the firm Covey Pardee Landscape Architects, which was tasked by the city with coming up with a redesign concept.

Some have said the firm is not local and didn't research the history of the Plaza.

Alan Pardee, a principal in the firm, was born and raised in Ashland and now works out of Mount Shasta, Calif. His business partner, Greg Covey, works out of Ashland.

Pardee researched the history of the Plaza while studying landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. He also gathered up additional information about the Plaza's history to be presented during public workshops.

Pardee said the firm had some misgivings about taking on the project because of its highly visible and potentially controversial nature. But Pardee said he and Covey love Ashland and the Plaza, and wanted to tackle the redesign.

"It's been difficult for us," Pardee acknowledged.

Covey and Pardee have offered various ideas for integrating public opinions into a final plan for the Plaza, including building comfortable bench seating into the concrete walls, using pavers instead of concrete on the ground to add warmth and character, and earmarking areas for public art mosaics.

To visit the "You know you're from Ashland when ..." Facebook page, go to www.facebook.com/groups/178332778903355/.

To reach Stanley's "Preserve Ashland's Historic Plaza" Facebook page, go to www.facebook.com/PreserveAshlandsHistoricPlaza.

The city of Ashland also has posted numerous documents and landscape architects' drawings for the Plaza redesign at www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=14976.

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