In the past, ideas have included cattle or goat grazing, raising food crops, growing hops or planting a vineyard, building a food processing facility or creating a windmill farm or solar panel farm.

The city of Ashland will seek ideas from people and businesses interested in temporarily using 265 acres of city-owned land that sits north of town on the east side of Interstate 5.

The Ashland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize city staff to put out a request for proposals for using the lower part of the 846-acre Imperatrice property.

"I really want to see what kinds of competing ideas we get," said Councilor Kate Jackson.

The upper portion contains sensitive native plants and wildlife areas, city officials said.

In the past, ideas have included cattle or goat grazing, raising food crops, growing hops or planting a vineyard, building a food processing facility or creating a windmill farm or solar panel farm.

The request for proposals that the city will put out will stipulate that the term of a lease would be for only two or three years, which would limit options for long-term uses. The lease could include an option for a two- to three-year renewal.

City officials want to keep open an option to possibly use the land in the future as a place to spray treated sewage effluent.

The short-term nature of the lease could make it difficult for farmers to use the land because of the poor soil there, said Alex Amarotico, co-owner of Standing Stone Brewing Co. The restaurant uses locally and organically grown food in many of its menu offerings.

The land would need to be improved with animal manure and other supplements in order to be useful to farmers, Amarotico said.

He previously has floated the idea of a food processing facility on the land.

Jeff Sharpe of Sharpe Energy Solutions in Ashland asked the City Council on Tuesday to wait before leasing the land to someone for a short-term use.

With millions of dollars available in federal funding for energy projects, Sharpe said city officials should get information about funding for a renewable energy project on the land.

The city bought the Imperatrice Ranch property in 1996 for $950,287 and planned to spray treated sewage effluent on its hillsides.

The move was in response to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality ruling that Ashland's effluent, which drains into a creek, contained too much phosphorus and was harming fish.

Several years after the land purchase, the City Council decided not to spray the effluent, but instead to upgrade the sewage treatment plant to remove phosphorus. That way the effluent could still flow into the creek and supplement water levels for fish.

That solved that problem, but the DEQ also said that Ashland's effluent is too warm to be healthy for fish. The Ashland Public Works Department wants to keep open the option that warm effluent could be sprayed on the Imperatrice land.

The land is currently used for cattle grazing. That earns the city $11,000 a year — enough to cover Jackson County property taxes and irrigation fees.

The Jackson County Assessor's Office has put the market value of the land at $7.6 million, but the City Council has not shown any interest in trying to sell the land.

The Imperatrice land is zoned for exclusive farm use, which restricts the amount of housing that could go on the land, but allows for a variety of uses that range from farming to sewage effluent sprinkling.

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