Thursday, November 14, 2013

Can Land Protected by a Conservaion Easement be Turned Into a Golf Course

This story out of Virginia, features Donald Trump, a winery, a proposed golf course, and a conservation easement.  In 2011, a Trump subsidiary bought Patricia Kluge’s Estate Winery and Vineyard, a 1,200-acre property with a dormant nine-hole golf course designed by Arnold Palmer.  Trump wants to replace the old links with an expanded to 18-holes, 480 acre course.  The difficulty is Partricia Kluge placed 216 acres under “conservation easement” in 2006:

Patricia Kluge, as a trustee of the John Kluge Jr. Trust, signed onto an easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) in 2006, which states that it encourages preservation of natural, scenic, historic, open-space, and recreational land in Virginia. A memo from VOF stewardship specialist Tracy Hibbitts said golf courses don’t fit the bill. “It was noted that VOF’s current practice is not to accept easements with golf courses,” reads the memo.

The Trump, unsurprisingly, offer a different interpretation:

In a 2011 letter to VOF, Trump’s attorney Jason Greenblatt uses exact language from the deed of easement to argue for the golf course, explaining that industrial or commercial activities other than “temporary or seasonal outdoor activities that do not permanently alter the physical appearance of the Property, and that do not diminish the conservation values herein protected” are prohibited. “A golf course, naturally, is a commercial activity that clearly meets the requirements,” Greenblatt says in the letter.

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