Replacing the smaller trees on the Ashland Plaza for bigger varieties moved one step closer to becoming a reality amid some controversy at the Ashland City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The plan would replace four of the five smaller trees on the Plaza with trees about 30-foot tall from Plant Oregon to provide greater shade and aesthetics. The fifth tree would be moved from one location on the Plaza to another. All the current trees to be replaced would be transplanted to other city property and the project would be completed and paid for by Solid Ground Landscaping which has already identified the local trees to be planted in the Plaza.

The plan, created through a grassroots group led by former city Tree Commission commission Greg Trunnell, approved by the city’s tree commission and approved in principle by city staff, would bring in two willow oaks and two large zelkova trees (part of the elm family) to replace the current specimans.

The smaller trees were put in during a Plaza makeover four years ago which saw the removal of older, larger liquidamber trees which an arborist said had girdled roots and were not a recommended type of street tree.

Another council consideration which bubbled up was the lack of a city policy in accepting gifts from the public. Councilor Greg Lemhouse urged councilors to consider the implications of accepting gifts for city property. “We need to make sure we have say over what goes on our property,” he said. “This is a project we like. What if someone brings a check for a project we don’t like?” He also had practical concerns. “If they (trees) die, are we responsible for replacing them?”

The donated trees are guaranteed for 18 months, enough to see if they make it through two summers, a good indication of their success, a donor representative said.

The council agreed to have staff prepare the contract for city approval at its next council meeting, as well as preparing a policy about accepting gifts. Tree donors told the council the optimum planting time would be March. The next council meeting will be March 21.

City Hall committee formed

Steps away from the Plaza is the old Ashland City Hall which has been deemed unsafe in the event of an earthquake. The City Council created an ad hoc committee to consider options for repairing, replacing or moving out of City Hall downtown. Additionally, interim city Administrator John Karns suggested the committee consider a new public safety building for police. Karns told the council most of the million-dollar price tag could come from “forfeitures” and a bond measure.

Councilors agreed to create the committee and allowed the consideration of the new public safety building as well as relocating City Hall for essential staff in other parts of town where land may be less expensive.

Visitor-boosting funds allocated

The council additionally allocated transient occupancy tax dollars for the Visitors and Convention Bureau operated by the Chamber of Commerce. The allocation is $400,000 per year. “We invest $400,000 per year and we make $6 million,” said Mayor John Stromberg of the allocation. “We’re facing a tough budget year. Our increased PERS (public employee retirement system) contribution increased by $2 million. Our Transient Occupancy Tax and Meals Tax and the yet-to-be marijuana tax helps the city.” He applauded the chamber for bringing tourists to town and how that helps cover the additional expense of PERS.

Councilor Dennis Slattery recused himself from the vote, stating that while his conflict of interest does not meet a legal standing, he believed it better for him to avoid any appearance of conflict. Slattery’s wife, Sandra, is executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.