Draper City: Building laws make it hard to say ‘no’ to risky development

Apr 24, 2023, 11:15 PM | Updated: 11:16 pm

DRAPER, Utah — Those looking at the site where two Draper homes collapsed down the hillside have asked: why would the city allow homes to be built there?

It seems clear to the untrained eye that building on a steep mountainside might not be the best idea. Draper’s city code agrees.

Draper has some of the strictest building code in Utah due to the number of geological hazards present within city boundaries.

“Our code says you can’t build on something that’s more than 30% slope,” explained David Dobbins, Draper City’s manager. “But… recognizing property rights… if you can mitigate the concern of building on that slope, and you can do it in a way that meets our requirements, then we allow them to do that.”

That’s what happened in a March 2016 planning commission meeting, where Edge Homes requested a deviation to build on 43 lots that had a slope of 30% or steeper.

The Draper planning commission approved the deviation in a 4-1 vote. Included in those lots were the Kamradts’ home and the Kimbles’ home, which both collapsed down the slope on April 22.

Owner of one of two Draper homes that slid never expected it would really happen

“Utah is a property rights state,” Dobbins said. “If you have property, you have a right to use it.”

Dobbins said there was a reason for that exception given to Edge Homes — if the city tells someone they can’t develop their own property, taxpayers could end up footing the bill for the property.

“We have people who have built on fault lines and debris flow areas,” Dobbins said. “And as a city, our first reaction is just to say no, don’t do it. It’s not a good idea. But then they come and say, well, you’ve devalued my land, because now I can’t develop it. I can’t sell it.”

“Because we have requirements in place, and if they’ve met those, then we essentially have to allow them, or as a city, we have to compensate them for that land,” Dobbins continued.

What he described is called regulatory takings. It falls under the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and happens when government regulation limits the use of private property to a degree it no longer has value.

In these cases, the government would have to pay the landowner for the value of the land.

To avoid that, Dobbins said they try to make sure the developer follows building code by mitigating geological hazards to build safely.

“So that we don’t get into a situation where we’re buying everyone’s property, we say you can build as long as you mitigate it, and that’s what happened in this case,” he said.

Dobbins said they reviewed the Hidden Valley Estates plans for a year before approval, going back and forth for clarification on geotechnical investigation reports, and consulting with a third party engineer before the plans met the city’s standards.

Now, the city has its own team investigating what went wrong.

“We want to make sure that those homes are safe,” Dobbins said. “We have a team of engineers and consultants that are looking at how to stabilize the existing walls of that collapsed area right now.”

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Draper City: Building laws make it hard to say ‘no’ to risky development