A phantom clause in an old contract helped derail a City Council vote Tuesday on a controversial housing project in the Provo foothills.

Four hours of wandering debate among council members wasn't enough for them to decide whether to rezone 51 acres north of Seven Peaks Water Park for hundreds of houses, twin homes and condominiums. Seven Peaks Development Co. wants to tear up its existing 18-hole golf course in favor of housing."I think we're going in circles," said Councilwoman Shari Holweg.

Rather than vote on the zoning issue, the council again asked Seven Peaks to scale back its project to no more than 300 housing units and return in a few weeks for another hearing. Scott McQuarrie, Seven Peaks co-owner, said he'd do that, but he remains unconvinced that the council will accept the revised plan. Seven Peaks has redrawn the plan more than 60 times the past four years, shaving away more units nearly each time to appease the council.

Robert Stockwell, Provo's chief administrative officer, urged the council to recommend a certain number of units and stick to it.

"We are asking the developer to hit a moving target," he said. "Without the figure, you're going to be right back here ad nauseam."

McQuarrie said preliminary plans for an LDS Church on the property will further reduce the number of homes.

Tuesday's meeting was the latest marathon council session in a growing number of late-hour debates on the controversial proposal that have dragged on since 1994. Residents living near Seven Peaks who organized themselves into a group called Concerned Families of Provo oppose the project, citing traffic concerns, too many apartments and poor planning. The group added violation of public trust to its list of complaints at a news conference prior to the latest council meeting.

Residents and a Brigham Young University student threw a 20-year-old wrinkle into the debate Tuesday night.

In doing research for a term paper, history major Justin Barker found a so-called "reversion clause" in a 1978 option agreement between the city and a company that wanted to build a ski resort at Seven Peaks. The provision called for the property to be returned to the city for public use should the resort not be built. Because the ski resort didn't come to fruition, he said, the city may lay claim to the land, adding residents might have been "cheated" out of the property.

"It just cries injustice to me," Barker said.

Although the reversion clause was included in the option agreement, a Salt Lake law firm asked to review the issue in October 1978 concluded that it was terminated when the ski resort developers took possession of the land. City Council Attorney Neil A. Lind-berg, who was a Provo planner at the time, said the purpose of the clause was to prevent land speculation.

Stockwell said a city title search on the Seven Peaks parcel didn't turn up any restrictions on the deed to the land, which has changed hands several times over the past 20 years. Lindberg concurred with that observation. McQuarrie said Seven Peaks has a clear title to the property.

Seven Peaks bought the golf course in 1994 at auction after the state insurance commission seized it from the previous owner whose failed insurance company didn't have the cash or liquidity to cover insurance claims. State trustees said four years ago that Seven Peaks paid $2.1 million for 82 acres, but McQuarrie said Tuesday the company paid twice that.

Although resident Jefferson Hunt, an attorney and member of Concerned Families of Provo, agrees the reversion clause doesn't exist, he still doesn't want to see the area developed for housing.

"We seem to be on a threshold. This is a desirable place to live," he said. "But we don't need more high-density housing on the choicest piece of property in Provo." Hunt said he believes the multiplexes will become "kiddie condos," condominiums parents will own for college students.

"This is just an adjunct to the BYU housing program," he said.

Councilman Paul Warner said Provo needs new housing to accommodate the thriving city as well as the increasing BYU student body. The city grows 2 percent each year, meaning an additional 10,000 people will move in during the five-year buildout of the Seven Peak project. Also, BYU is allowing 500 more students per year over the next four years.

Holweg suggested the city consider holding a bond election to raise money to buy the land and preserve it as open space or a park. Her colleagues weren't hip on the notion.

"I'm tired of bonding. I'm tired of raising taxes," said Council Chairman Greg Hudnall.