As billionaire developer Donald Trump works to beautify his Trump National Doral golf complex, he has installed a fence of bushy trees along the perimeter of the courses, adjoining residents’ homes.
Trump says the idea is to give golfers a feeling of isolation from everything but the course. But neighbors say The Donald has taken away something valuable from them — their unobstructed views of the greens and fairways.
Some residents say they have legal rights to the golf views based on agreements between the golf courses’ previous owner and the developer of nearby homes. But Trump attorneys say those promises aren’t binding.
In a phone interview, Trump stood by his trees, saying that he is just trying to improve a world-renowned golf resort, where green fees can run as high as $450, and ensure the safety of his neighbors.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“Most people are happy when I plant trees. They feel much more secure without golf balls smashing into their windows,” Trump said. “Look, I’m looking to build one of the great resorts of the world. You can’t be standing on a hole and looking at someone else’s hanging laundry, barbeque pit, or garbage cans which are stored in the back of the houses. These are beautiful trees.”
Trump added that when he bought the silver course property out of bankruptcy in 2012, the agreements between the home developer and the former course owner were extinguished.
The new areca palms have been stumping more than 2,500 homeowners since the beginning of Trump’s beautification project early last year. Former views of green, curvy hills or glassy waters are now blocked by trees that grow dozens of feet high.
“We all paid an extra amount in the thousands of dollars, and now he is cutting off our view and our enjoyment,” said Judith Roche said, a longtime Doral resident. “He’s selfish. He totally ignored the welfare of thousands of Doral citizens. That’s the crux of our position.”
Doral Park is a master community made up of 13 sub-communities. It was one of the first residential developments in the city. It was developed by Lennar Corp., which promised residents in Doral Park a view.
The residents say KSL Silver Properties promised that it would not block the views when KSL acquired the golf course site from Lennar.
“The golf course and the lakes shall not be reconfigured in a manner which eliminates or materially diminishes the view of homes or units located adjacent to lakes or the golf course,” says the agreement, which also says it is intended to run with the land, regardless of changes in ownership.
But Trump’s attorneys have studied the documents and concluded that the promise isn’t binding. They say KSL sold the property to another company, which later filed for bankruptcy. Trump bought the property out of bankruptcy in 2012, a process that extinguished KSL’s promises, Trump said.
Records show Trump purchased the property for $150 million.
In addition, the language in the agreement, according to Trump, was for the “golf course’s benefit, not the homeowners,” Trump said. He added that in any case, he “did not reconfigure anything.”
Land-use expert Ed Russo is a consultant for Trump. He argued that the agreement says “of the homes” not “for the homes.”
Residents though question how the deed’s language could in any way benefit the resort. Russo said that surrounding homes bring revenue into the resort.
“Legally, the course was never developed in conjunction with the developments around the golf course. There’s a separation,” attorney Carlos J. Gimenez said. “ The developers who added that representation in the warranty deed had no legal authority or representation to do so. It’s a false promise.”
A Lennar spokesman said he would have to research the matter before commenting.
Doral Estates, Doral Colony, and Doral Fairways are also luxury gated communities located in Doral that are not part of Doral Park. These three communities are located on various other golf courses of the Doral Trump National Resort, and have been affected as well. However these communities were not developed by Lennar, which developed Doral Park, and residents interviewed aren’t claiming the legal protection of the Lennar-KSL agreement.
The areca palms don’t look like other palm trees, but grow thick and bushy from the ground up, becoming a screen.
Trump said the trees for the silver golf course — the last course yet to be completed — cost about $750,000. That does not include the red, blue and gold courses.
But 90-year-old Morgan Levy, a 27-year Doral Park resident, said the price of trees wasn’t his concern.
“I don’t care if they cost him $10 million,” he said. “I just want my view back. I have many memories here.”
Levy said he paid more than $10,000 extra for his home, specifically for the picturesque scene from his yard, he said.
Gimenez said Trump understands what the residents are feeling and is willing to come to an accord with residents.
“But you need to understand, that there is no legal obligation on behalf of the Trump organization. At this point, it’s about neighbors being good neighbors,” Gimenez said. “We’ll work hard to work together, but at the end of the day, the fact that a developer may have sold them a home promising a golf-course view, for the rest of their lives, wasn’t a legal reality.”
Levy spearheaded a petition to Doral’s mayor and City Council, requesting an “immediate cease-and-desist order to be issued for all construction on the Trump National golf courses until an acceptable solution can be negotiated with hundreds of homeowners.”
More than 150 had signed as of Thursday.
But city officials say all they can do is try to mediate.
Mayor Luigi Boria said the city is working with Trump and residents to come to an agreement on the arecas.
“I am working with Mr. Trump to see what we can do to resolve the issue,” Boria said, adding that he is also a victim. He noted that his view of the golf course from his home in Doral Estates is “completely obstructed and gone.”
“Yes, I’m upset, but I cannot blame anybody. Donald Trump has the legal right to do whatever he wants on his property,” Boria said. “I can say I enjoyed my view for the decades.”
Trump told the Herald on Thursday that “If I can’t make it great, I don’t want to be associated with it in any way.”
“If the trees go down, then we would cut it off from Trump National Doral and operate it totally separately because it couldn’t do any better, or develop the site into a residential area,” Trump said.
Other residents have expressed concerns about how the tree-planting has affected their yards. After Trump ordered the trees be placed along the perimeter of his properties, the backyards of many homeowners were left muddy, with holes in the ground and dead grass.
Dan O’Connell has lived between the gold and the red courses since 1987. In April 2014, he lost his waterfront view. And what used to be a canal to the right of his yard, flowing into a lake, is now a giant hole of mud.
“It used to be beautiful here,” O’Connell said, squinting to try to see past the trees. “Golfers weren’t that pretty but the course sure was. Now we’re in the cesspool. ...
“I know they’ve taken something from me and I want them to restore it,” he said. “It looks beautiful for him. He’s fixed up everything on his side, but hasn’t touched a thing on our side. Mr. Trump wants a natural view, like the rest of the world doesn’t exist, and I can understand that. But what he’s taking from us is as real as taking the baby out of the house.”
The O’Connells and the Levys said that they welcome The Donald to their home so he can “see for himself.”
“Tell him to come on over,” Levy said, his wife nodding. “He has the invitation.”