If you have ideas for how to use 846 acres of undeveloped land owned by the city of Ashland, city officials want to hear from you.

If you have ideas for how to use 846 acres of undeveloped land owned by the city of Ashland, city officials want to hear from you.

Earlier this month, the City Council voted to instruct city staff to draft a Request for Proposals for using the land, which is known as the Imperatrice Property.

The City Council will review the draft Request for Proposals at a future meeting, probably on June 1, said Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught.

If the draft meets with the council's approval, individuals, businesses and nonprofit groups can start sending in their proposals for using the land.

"We're looking for creative ideas for the use of the property," Councilor Kate Jackson said.

The city bought the land, located north of Interstate 5, for $946,000 in 1996 using city restaurant sales tax money. The plan at the time was to spray the city's treated sewage wastewater on the hillside as a less expensive method for meeting Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regulations on wastewater.

After lengthy debate and resistance from neighbors near the property, the City Council decided in 1999 to abandon the spray plan, treat the wastewater to a higher standard and continue emptying it into Bear Creek.

Since then, the land has been used for cattle grazing. That has brought in enough income to pay Jackson County property taxes and irrigation fees on the land, plus an extra $7,565.

In 2007, the City Council endorsed Councilor David Chapman's idea to explore other uses for the land, such as farming, generating energy with solar panels and creating hiking, biking and equestrian trails.

But options have not been fleshed out, in part because city staff have been busy on other work.

The issue was moved to the front burner again because city officials have recently been approached by people interested in using the land, according to a city staff memo to the council.

Faught said one of the ideas was from someone else wanting to graze cattle there, while another proposal was to grow crops.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said interested parties will not want to disclose financial details of their plans in public. Issuing a Request for Proposals, in which everyone submits ideas in writing at the same time under parameters laid out by the city, would encourage people to share their plans.

"We need to make the playing field level to get proposals," she said.

Christopher Iverson, a member of the Ashland Forest Lands Commission, has been willing to share his proposal publicly, except for some of the financial details.

He submitted a letter to the city and then spoke to councilors on March 17 about his idea to build an eco-village on the land.

Iverson is already helping to develop an environmentally friendly settlement about 30 miles south of Ashland across the Oregon and California border. Families can settle on 2.5-acre plots in the 466-acre Shambhala Eco Settlement.

Although development of the eco-village is in its early phases, Iverson said the model used there could be used to build an eco-village on the Imperatrice property.

In his letter to the city, he said his idea for the city's land is not to create "some kind of 'hippy dippy' spiritual commune or worse. Our plan for the Imperatrice property is grounded in business, economically solid and provable, and will be fully sustainable and profitable."

The city will require proposed uses be compatible with spraying of highly treated sewage effluent in case the city ever has to go that route.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is now requiring the city to find a way not to empty warm sewage wastewater into the creek. Though the city upgraded its sewage plant to filter out phosphorous that can trigger algae blooms that are harmful to fish, the wastewater is still too warm to meet other DEQ standards that protect fish.

Refrigerating the wastewater to bring down the temperature so that it could still be emptied into the creek could be costly.

The city could specify other restrictions for use of the land in the Request for Proposals, such as preserving land for trails, Bennett said.

Faught said any proposal to use the property would also have to go through Jackson County's land use process. The property is outside Ashland.

Chapman, the City Council member who previously wanted the city to explore uses for the land, said he would have liked for the city to study possible uses before moving forward on drafting a Request for Proposals.

"We haven't identified yet what we want to protect," he said.

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