ORINDA -- A two-part bulk lot sale at a luxury home subdivision in Orinda is helping breathe new life into a project that has weathered everything from a multimillion-dollar mortgage default to a hefty water pollution fine since its conception more than two decades ago.

In a March 17 newsletter, the city of Orinda announced that national homebuilder Taylor Morrison has signed with the developers of the 245-home Wilder project in Gateway Valley to purchase 61 lots. Escrow was expected to close April 4 on the first 23 lots, according to the city. A second sale of 38 home sites is expected to happen January 2015.

The potential purchase is the biggest yet on the 216 or so acres approved for development, said Orinda planning director Emmanuel Ursu.

"The developers are very pleased with the uptick in activity and are hopeful the economy and the housing market holds and the activity they see is maintained going forward," Ursu said.

Scott Goldie, a principal with developer Brooks Street, said he couldn't comment on a potential sale. Representatives from Taylor Morrison, which is buying the lots, did not return a call seeking comment.

The sales follow others in recent months to various homebuilders eager to develop a portion of the 1,600-acre Wilder site. Toll Brothers is building homes there ranging from four to six bedrooms, priced from around $2.7 million to $2.9 million. Danville-based KT Builders hopes to build a total of four homes at the site.

Branagh Development, also of Danville, has purchased and received design review approval for two lots and submitted additional applications for four homes. Stockton-based Grupe Homes has bought three lots in the subdivision and submitted plans for design review approval, according to the city.

Proposed more than two decades ago in Orinda's picturesque Gateway Valley, the project calls for 245 luxury homes -- originally expected to sell for from $3 million to $5 million -- on lots averaging a half-acre. Buyers can choose from home plans offered by Brooks Street, or custom design a home of their own.

A recreational center and swim club and three of five public sports fields have already been built; an arts and garden center must be built by July 15, 2015, according to a subsequent amendment of the development agreement. The city and developers are considering swapping the location of that facility with a park area located between the fourth and fifth ball fields, Ursu said.

More than 1,300 acres of open space and pedestrian, horse and bike trails are also part of the development.

So far, five homes are occupied, and the city expects 20 more homes will be finished by year's end.

Various developers getting small pieces