Many of SunCrest's hundreds of homes teetering on the sides of the mountain separating Draper and Utah County never should have been built. Streets are too steep, and some have failed. Much of the development clings to hillsides that are unstable; getting enough water is a problem.
Draper City officials should have listened to U.S. Geological Survey scientists who have mapped all of Salt Lake and Utah counties and know which slopes cannot bear the weight and disturbance of construction. The Draper City Council should have stood its ground and refused to allow the original owner, SunCrest Development, to create homesites and a street plan and sell to unsuspecting buyers.
The city erred again when it accepted ownership of streets in the subdivision without thorough testing of their stability and quality of construction. Draper has been in and out of court over the boondoggle for years, and repairing roads and fixing other problems has cost the city millions.
Several new owners purchased and then sold the property or backed out before a deal could be signed. Zions Bank acquired SunCrest in a July 2008 bankruptcy sale. The development totals 4,500 acres, and bank officials said more than 3,000 additional houses would be built on the undeveloped portion. Later Zions Bank sued the city and then said it had sold the property to an Arizona company. That company backed out in June, again blaming conflicts with the city.
Both the city and the original developer must share the blame. But the home buyers who wanted spectacular views but didn't want to do due diligence to find out what lay beneath their dream homes are not blameless. There are 1,300 homeowners in SunCrest waiting for infrastructure to bring them water and worrying that, since many of the planned homes will not be built, they might be facing higher fees from the Timpanogos Special Service District.
It's been a sad tale all around, but there may yet be a silver lining. Draper City has announced a plan to buy the undeveloped portions of SunCrest from Zions Bank for $5.6 million.
The city would refinance two existing bonds at a lower interest rate to pay for the property. The 2,200 acres are adjacent to nearly 1,800 acres of open space, including part of Corner Canyon. If the deal goes through, and considering Draper's history, that's a big if, it would create 4,000 acres of open space, unprecedented along the Wasatch Front.
This would be the first good thing to come of the SunCrest misadventure, other than a lesson for cities: Keep development off steep, unstable foothills.