Trump sees more fairways in Albemarle’s future

Trump Winery officials face hurdles in plans to build an 18-hole golf course on the grounds of Albemarle House, the former estate of Patricia Kluge.

But Eric Trump, the son of the famous real estate mogul, is confident the project will happen.

While the property already hosts a nine-hole course designed by Arnold Palmer, further development can’t occur until a special-use permit is approved by the county and the legal requirements of a conservation easement are addressed.

“We want [the course] to be the best,” said Eric Trump, president of Trump Winery and executive vice president of development and acquisitions for his father Donald Trump’s New York-based company. “Just as we have the best and most luxurious assets at other Trump National Golf Courses, we want to have that in Charlottesville.”

Trump met with Albemarle planning staff in a pre-application meeting in June and said he’s been in contact with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which holds a conservation easement on the property.

“Trump is going to have to have a two-pronged approach to satisfy the requirements of both entities,” said Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land conservation officer for Albemarle County.

The easement and special-use permit “are two very different things,” Linville said.

In a memo from Albemarle officials to Trump’s attorney, county staff said terms of the conservation easement will have to be met for the county to back the permit. A letter from the outdoors foundation stating that the proposal is consistent with the easement will be required with the permit application, wrote David Benish, Albemarle’s planning chief.

Foundation Executive Director Bob Lee declined to comment on the status of the review.

An April 2011 letter to Trump said the foundation disagrees with his interpretation of the easement. Trump does not have “an absolute right” to build a golf course on the property, the foundation said.

Foundation policy has opposed easements “on properties that would be used for a commercial golf course,” wrote Tracy Campbell, the foundation’s stewardship specialist.

The easement limits commercial activities, specifying that “temporary or seasonal outdoor activities” cannot “permanently alter the physical appearance of the property.”

In April, foundation representatives met with Trump representatives and Ed Russo, an environmental consultant who has worked with Trump on golf course projects in Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and Scotland.

A foundation memo describing the meeting says Russo “discussed the fact that their golf course projects are typically like nature preserves and environmentally sensitive projects.”

Russo said “the environmental hurdles are significant and very tough, and we think we can more than exceed them.”

“There is a new approach to golf courses which takes environmental impacts into account during the entire process—design, construction and the management and maintenance of the course after it is completed,” Russo said. “Golf is an interesting land-use option because it provides opportunities to actually improve the land.”

The initial review by Albemarle officials identifies questions facing a special-use permit application.

“Traffic impacts of the proposal will be one of the more significant issues that will need to be evaluated and addressed as part of the review of the Special Use Permit,” the memo says.

Questions also are raised about the scale of the operation. Officials ask for specific plans related to food service, lodging and the use of the estate’s almost 18,000-square-foot Albemarle House.

“It would obviously be the clubhouse,” Trump said. “It’s an exceptional house, its overlooking acres of vines and the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Trump said “prudent” steps are being taken to address traffic concerns.

“We would very much take a minimalist approach and let the land speak for itself,” Trump said. “Quite frankly, I think you would only hurt the asset if you moved tremendous earth.”

Once Trump submits its special use permit application, they will be required to hold a meeting “to inform the surrounding community of the proposal.”  Benish specified that such a meeting should be held within 30 days of the submission of Trump’s plans.