Trump Winery neighbors remain unconvinced that a golf course is a good idea

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Eric Trump made an appearance at Trump Winery last week, where he spent two hours answering questions and assuring neighbors that his proposed golf course would comply with a conservation easement and benefit the county. Photo: Annalee Grant Eric Trump made an appearance at Trump Winery last week, where he spent two hours answering questions and assuring neighbors that his proposed golf course would comply with a conservation easement and benefit the county. Photo: Annalee Grant

The battle over a protected plot of county land continues. Last week, international business mogul Donald Trump’s 29-year-old son Eric visited Charlottesville to address a roomful of curious and concerned county residents. Against the backdrop of the Trump Winery tasting room, the younger Trump was all smiles as he fielded two hours worth of questions that he’s clearly answered before about the golf course’s potential impacts on the area’s traffic, water, and overall environment. While some county residents left feeling just as frustrated as when they walked in the door, Trump called the meeting a success, and is confident that the golf course will not only be built, but will make the county proud.

Longtime county resident Cindy Patterson was one of the first to stand up and challenge Trump’s plan when she asked what will happen if the VOF doesn’t ultimately approve the golf course.

“It would be sad, after the millions and millions of dollars we put into this place to make it very special,” Trump said.

A portion of the 217-acre lawn is protected under a conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), an organization that encourages preservation of natural, scenic, historic, open-space, and recreational land in Virginia. Since the Trump Organization announced its plan to build an 18-hole golf course on the property, Trump’s representatives have been in constant disagreement with the VOF about whether it’s allowed. A memo from the VOF stewardship specialist Tracy Hibbits states that VOF’s current practice is not to accept easements with golf courses, but the Trump Organization argues that it qualifies as a “seasonal, commercial, outdoor activity,” which the easement permits.

“We’re a very prideful family, and when we do something we want it to be the best,” Trump said at the meeting. “We’ve already invested tens and tens of millions, and it could be an incredible attraction for down here.”

Residents who attended the meeting were enraged that yet another tourist attraction was moving into the rural area, while others said the golf course shouldn’t even be considered under the easement.

Trump and the VOF are still negotiating, and Trump said he plans to “comply with the easement 100 percent.” He noted that the golf course would cover four parcels of land, only one of which is encumbered by the easement.

“We’ve actually got a very good relationship with [the VOF],” Trump said. “A lot of the land is on the other three parcels there, and we’d actually give that to the VOF so it could be controlled in perpetuity.”

Trump also took care to point out that the winery alone has brought more than $31.5 million to the state economy. The proposed golf course, which would run out-of-town guests about $500 per round and employ at least 100 people, would make a sizeable contribution to the area’s tourism industry.

Even as the fight over the terms of the easement continue, the county is considering a special use permit for the course, which planner Scott Clark said will go to the Planning Commission as early as December.

Patterson said she didn’t understand why the county had let the process get this far without approval from the VOF first.

“What is the county going to do? Stop the process?” Patterson said from the back of the room. “We shouldn’t be in this situation. This should be a non-issue.”