JACKSONVILLE — A divided City Council has voted to halt negotiations on a potentially costly Measure 37 claim and wait for Oregon voters to decide whether a statewide initiative will revise the land-use measure.

JACKSONVILLE — A divided City Council has voted to halt negotiations on a potentially costly Measure 37 claim and wait for Oregon voters to decide whether a statewide initiative will revise the land-use measure.

Thomas Owings will be encouraged to proceed with his project through regular planning channels, city officials said.

"We have until May 2008 to make a decision," said City Councilman John Dodero, the council's liaison to the Planning Commission.

Owings filed a Measure 37 claim in December 2006 seeking $3.2 million or the ability to divide 8.74 hilly acres at the southern end of Third Street into more than 40 parcels.

Since filing, Owings has said that if the city will allow him to build about 19 houses on the acreage, he would drop the claim.

Owings is asking for relief from requirements to maintain 60 percent of the property in a "natural state." He also wants to lift prohibitions against building on slopes greater than 30 percent.

Council members have been negotiating with Owings and his agents for months and were poised to waive sections of the city's building code, but the council voted 4-2 Tuesday to stop the negotiations and send Owings back to the Planning Commission.

Dodero voiced concerns that lifting regulations on building on slopes for the claimant could create liability issues for the city. Dodero said he was concerned about the ramifications of changing city building codes.

"Rather than doing it on the front end, the more information we have, the better off we are," Dodero said.

Nearby neighbors opposed to the proposed development had letters read into the record by Mayor Jim Lewis.

Christina Van Aken's letter said it was clear Owings never intended to create 40 homes on the hillside. Her letter said the council should not "appease the pockets of an out-of-town developer." Calling Owings' claim "a form of extortion from a man who doesn't care about his neighbors," Van Aken urged the council not to allow Owings to "commandeer city government for his own financial growth."

Candy Nichelson said the development will be out of place in the quiet neighborhood, adding she has been drawn into a property dispute over a fence line she shares with Owings. She favors the delay, stating new legislation could negate the need to compromise with Owings.

"To act now would constitute a failure of council to best represent the city and citizens," they wrote.

Council members Bill Leep and Dick Ames voted against Dodero's motion to end negotiations with Owings. Council members Donna Schatz and Bruce Garrett, joined Dodero and Mayor Jim Lewis in voting for the delay. Councilman Chris Gilman was absent.

City officials had at least three previous meetings with Owings to discuss the issue. Leep and Ames said the postponement request was coming as a surprise.

Ames said negotiating was cheaper than defending against a Measure 37 claim.

"The agreement to negotiate was made based on their filing a claim against us," said Ames.

Leep said the hillside construction waivers Owings was demanding were not extreme. He said the city would be better off creating acceptable parameters for the slopes and buffer zones similar to those in place in the early 1990s than fighting a Measure 37 claim and possibly losing.

"As a city, we're really not giving a lot," said Leep.

In previous discussions, Dodero said accepting the terms at the council level prior to having the project proceed through the planning channels would "take away a lot of tools" from the planning commission.

"I think this is a more prudent way to go," Dodero said Tuesday.

Owings and his agents did not speak at the meeting and left immediately after the vote. Attempts to contact Owings were unsuccessful, and his land use planner, Mike LaNier, did not return calls Thursday.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.