Lawmaker evaluating prison move built homes near Draper site

This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 photo shows the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Utah lawmakers are advancing a plan to relocate the state prison in southwest Salt Lake County. The Utah State Prison occupies about 700 acres in Draper where tech companies such as eBay and Microsoft have opened offices. Gov. Gary Herbert has called on lawmakers to fund the relocation so the corridor can develop as a technology hub. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah lawmaker deeply involved in the state prison-relocation process was simultaneously building townhouses near the current prison site.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, served on the panel that recommended moving the prison and then led the group that chose a new location for the facility, reported The Salt Lake Tribune ( ).

Meanwhile, his company, Destination Homes, built the 29-unit Sunflower Crossing property slightly more than a mile from the existing penitentiary in Draper. The construction by Wilson’s company never came up during debates about the facility’s relocation, although critics at the time argued that the effort was driven by developers who wanted to improve business.

Wilson said the property was not a conflict of interest because he sold all the homes months before the Prison Relocation Commission he co-chaired released details about potential new prison sites. The homes were also sold years before the jail will actually move.

“Homes didn’t sell faster there because the prison might move some day nor did they sell for any more,” Wilson said. His company generally builds in South Jordan and the Layton area. “I guess I would have thought more about it if I thought I would have benefited in any way. I didn’t benefit, nor did my company benefit.”

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he doesn’t know the details surrounding Sunflower Crossing, but he thinks the property would have been a legitimate part of the public debate. King is one of many lawmakers who eventually voted to move the prison to land west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.

“When in doubt, when there is any question, disclose,” King said. He argued Utah’s part-time lawmakers should try harder to avoid legislation that could relate to their day jobs.

It’s “just remarkable,” King said, how often people “are convinced or suspicious, at the very least, that there are going to be legislators who profit personally.”

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, knew about the development and even visited it, although Wilson’s co-chairman on the Prison Relocation Commission, Layton Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson, wasn’t aware of it. Both men said they see no way Wilson could have profited from his public position.

Hughes, a developer and property manager who lives in Draper, had tried to publicly distance himself from the prison relocation project. He said Wilson’s development might have been a conflict if the land was directly adjacent to the prison or if Wilson planned to sit on the undeveloped land until the prison moved.

As things stand, said Hughes, “I did not pause or go, ‘Wait a minute, that could be a problem.’ “

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