Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conservation Easements and the Proposed Trump Golf Course

Entities owned by the Trump family want to build a golf course in southern Albemarle County, on property near the Trump Winery (formerly owned by the Kluges).

Trump Virginia Acquisitions LLC purchased the land in 2011. 

The golf course requires a special use permit from Albemarle County.  Upon application for the permit, the County asked the Virginia Outdoors Foundation whether the golf course is permitted under the terms of a conservation easement, held by the VOF, that encumbers a portion of the property.


A November 17 article by Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow (here) provides a thorough update on the current status of the Trumps' application.

The article helpfully includes copies of the full text of (1) the County's response to the special use application and (2) VOF's response to the County about the applicability of the conservation easement.


According to Wheeler, neither the County nor the VOF has come out definitively against the golf course proposal. The County and the VOF both indicated the need for additional details from the Trump entities prior to making a final determination.

However, the VOF's letter makes clear that a golf course (any golf course) is unlikely to comply with the easement's restrictions against commercial development of the property.

This is as it should be.  The entire tenor of the VOF's easement template -- and indeed the entire tenor of the federal Treasury regulations that must be complied with in order to attain the special tax benefits associated with donating a conservation easement -- counsel against allowing a golf course to be built on easement property.

The lack of an express prohibition against the golf course is not the point: legal documents cannot possibly include language to address every contingency.  The point is that the whole purpose of the easement program is land preservation, including preservation from unwarranted commercial development.

If the golf course project were to move forward, it would raise serious questions about whether a conservation easement is truly as restrictive as advertised. In turn, legislators might begin to question the value of maintaining the tax incentives associated with donating an easement.

We hope you are enjoying the spectacular Virginia fall.