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'Save the Hollows': 600 sign petition to stop Draper development

DRAPER — Leigh Brennan said it was Draper's East Hollow wilderness — the rolling hills, the trails — that drew her and her husband, Johne, from Ohio to Utah.

When they walked into the Suncrest home and saw the view from the living room for the first time, she said they "instantly" fell in love. It didn't take long before they closed on the house and moved six states to the west.

"You can't see this vast expanse anywhere else," she said, looking out from her kitchen window Monday, across the snow-covered hills.

Below, hundreds of yards away, a doe could be spotted nestled in a ravine. Further in the distance, a herd of deer.

"Its gorgeous," Brennan added. "We hike all the time out here. There's constantly deer, wild turkey. There's the elk migration. Cyclists are using this. Hikers are using this. … But what we fear is all of this is going to be cleared."

With her hand, she drew an imaginary road in the landscape leading all the way back to homes in the distance, across the Alpine border. She pictured more houses cropping up along the way.

"That road," she said, "will be the lynch pin to more development."

'Save the Hollows'

The Brennans are among about 600 Utahns who have signed a petition calling on Draper leaders to stop a development in the East Hollows area of Draper's Suncrest neighborhoods, along the border of Alpine.

They've spearheaded the "Save the Hollows" effort, urging other Draper residents to attend the Dec. 6 City Council meeting to tell leaders not to surplus about 40 acres of additional land to Blue Bison Development, which is already under a 2012 contract with the city to develop 110 acres in the area for about 400 single family homes and townhomes.

Now, the developer has requested about 40 more acres to build a road to connect the near-Alpine neighborhood to Draper — and to help pay for the road, Blue Bison aims to build homes along the way.

City Councilman Jeff Stenquist said he's supportive of the plan because sale of the land would mean $7.2 million for the 110 acres and another $1 million to $2 million for the 40 acres — all money that would help pay down Draper's $18 million debt in bonds used to purchase open land in recent years.

"To me, this is all in favor of open space," he said. "Anyone who knows me, I'm the council liaison to the parks and trail committee. I'm a big mountain biker and open space enthusiast. So to me, my motivation is all about more open space."

Stenquist said he "completely understands" Suncrest neighborhood concerns, "but at the same time we need to also look out for the taxpayer."

Open space plan

Brennan said they began the "Save the Hollows" effort initially with a personal interest, reluctant to lose the wilderness in their backyard.

"But the more we started digging, the more we realized it's not just about us," she said. "We think this goes to show people don't understand the ramifications of what's truly not protected."

She said it's not just her neighborhood, but people across the Wasatch Front who use the East Hollows trail system.

"There are hundreds of people who want to see this saved: hikers, bikers, horseback riders," she said.

Earlier this year, Draper finalized a master plan outlining spaces meant to remain open‚ but Brennan said she's troubled that none of the land has been placed under a conservation easement.

Mark Ursic, another Suncrest resident, agreed.

"Without a direct commitment from the City Council as to what their plan is and how much of the open space plan they're actually going to commit to, we have no assurance whatsoever that they'll protect this open space," he said.

But Councilman Alan Summerhays said he'd "fight tooth and nail" against placing Draper land under a conservation easement, pointing out that it would limit trail accessibility.

Summerhays and Stenquist said Draper values open space, and wouldn't surplus any open space without careful consideration.

Draper has spent millions to build its 4,800-acre stock of open space, Stenquist said, pointing out that Draper bought about 2,500 acres in 2012 to protect against developments.

He said the 110-acre plot of land was already slated for development before the open space master plan was finalized. While the additional 40 acres wasn't set aside, he said the master plan also stated some other parcels could be sold.

"We're just trying to be fair — and we feel it would be fair if Draper taxpayers had the ability to recoup some funds back," he said.

Additionally, Stenquist said the city could use some of the money from the sale to buy other private property in more "pristine" areas to preserve that open space.

Already decided?

Brennan and Ursic worry that Draper leaders have already made up their minds.

"We feel like we will get to say our peace, but there won't be a real discussion," Brennan said.

They were also frustrated that they received notice of the plan simply because they live within 300 feet of the development area, and that a public notice sign wasn't posted in the area until after Brennan called the city to ask about it.

Brennan worries that "money is speaking to them over conservation."

"Draper did this open space plan saying they'd protect this. It's land they said was going to be protected," she said. "If they go ahead and surplus this, what that indicates is they don't care about Draper City residents and they will just keep on surplusing as much as they want."

Stenquist acknowledged there was a "mistake" about the sign posting date, and said he was supportive of the plan. But Summerhays said his mind isn't already made up, hoping to hear input from residents on Dec. 6.

He pointed out that if the city does put the land up for surplus, that doesn't mean it will be sold; it only means the city can use it for negotiations.

"To tell the truth I wouldn't want to sell any of it," he said, "but if we can reduce our debt that would be great to me. I'm looking out for the whole community of Draper, not just a small portion of people."

The public meeting will be held Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. at 1020 E. Pioneer Road.