A letter from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation could keep the proposal for the Trump National Golf Club in the rough.
The foundation, a public land conservation organization created by the Virginia General Assembly, holds a protective easement on about 70 percent of the land around Albemarle House, the former estate of Patricia Kluge. Brett Glymph, executive director of the organization, said the group received “no specific plans” related to the 18-hole course.
“Based upon the limited information that we have received to date, the Easement limitations and our understanding of all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the donation of the Easement, we seriously doubt that a golf course can be developed on land that includes the Property,” she said in her Sept. 13 letter.
Albemarle County staff requested a letter with the foundation’s opinion after a preliminary meeting with Eric Trump, son of real estate mogul Donald Trump, in June. Trump submitted a formal plan for the course to the county in August and, with Glymph’s letter, the review will now continue, said county planning chief David Benish.
“The county just deemed our application complete which is fantastic,” Trump said. “We think we can build the greatest golf course in the country down there.”
James Neale, an attorney with McGuireWoods who represents a group of residents that oppose the golf course, said he was pleased the foundation had weighed in.
“The letter doesn’t say anything we didn’t expect,” Neale said. “It’s pretty close to unequivocal that a course could not be developed there given the terms of the easement. They own the easement and they get the final say.”
Trump, who is president of the adjacent Trump Winery, sees it differently. He said the foundation has moved from a position of prohibiting the golf course altogether to now having only “doubts” it can be done in compliance with the easement.
“A long time ago they mistakenly said we could not have a golf course,” Trump said in an interview. “We will comply 100 percent with the easement, and the easement gives us the right to do this.”
Trump said he looked forward to providing the foundation more information about the project to garner its endorsement.
Glymph’s letter comes 2 1/2 years after the foundation told Trump he did not have “an absolute right” to build a golf course on the property and that foundation policy has opposed easements “on properties that would be used for a commercial golf course.”
Foundation officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The foundation’s easement on Trump’s property limits commercial activities, specifying that any “temporary or seasonal outdoor activities” not “permanently alter the physical appearance of the property.”
“At the end of the day, what the foundation is trying to do from a conservation standpoint is what we are trying to do,” Trump said. “Many of our golf courses have easements.”
Some adjoining property owners and Neale have formed the League for Preservation of Conservation Easements to advocate for protection of the property.
Neale said the neighbors have a range of concerns including traffic and “the changing nature of the property from what is now an undeveloped rural estate.”
“Some of them are concerned about ecological damages that might be done too,” Neale said.
Glymph indicated that the foundation appreciates Trump’s “expressed sensitivity to the environmental impacts of the proposed development.” Trump is working with Ed Russo, an environmental consultant who has worked on other Trump golf course projects in Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and Scotland.
Trump said his view that the golf course would be an acceptable commercial use because little grading would be required and, outside the golf course fairways and greens, much of the land would be left in its current state.
The easement covers about 217 acres Kluge donated in 2006. It remained in effect when Trump Virginia Acquisitions, LLC purchased the property in 2011.
Benish said Trump should receive comments from county staff on the plan in early November. Trump must hold a community meeting on the project with property owners before the golf course application continues to the planning commission and, ultimately the Board of Supervisors.
Neale said he does not expect Albemarle officials to approve the project if the foundation doesn’t support it.
“I know the mission of conservation is important to Board [of Supervisors], as well as property rights of easement holder, and I hope their deliberations will reflect both of those principles,” Neale said.