The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

By JOHN ROCHE & R.J. MARX

Donald Trump, owner of the 213-acre Seven Springs property in Bedford, North Castle and New Castle, received a court win last year when a New York State Supreme Court judge said that he had the right to widen a portion of Oregon Road running through the property for traffic and pedestrians. However, the Nature Conservancy, which had been granted an easement for the land, appealed the decision, and last month a four-judge appellate panel reversed that ruling.

The judges said that the Supreme Court had erred in providing an easement to 
Mr. Trump.
On May 1, the state Supreme Court’s appellate judges awarded summary judgment to the conservancy, declaring that Mr. Trump did not have an easement over the land. Further, it denied his right to widen Oregon Road or to remove gates at the entrance of the property. The earlier decision also granted Mr. Trump right of way over a southwest portion of the road, which was revoked in the recent decision.

The Nature Conservancy and Mr. Trump own adjoining parcels, which prior to 1973 were owned by the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. That year, the foundation transferred the parcel now owned by Mr. Trump to Yale University, one of the plaintiff’s predecessors in interest. The foundation transferred the abutting parcel to the conservancy.

In their ruling, judges said the deed conveying the Seven Springs parcel to Yale University included a provision transferring “all right, title and interest ... in and to any streets and roads abutting the aforesaid premises.”

According to the judges, the remaining deeds in the plaintiff’s chain of title to the Seven Springs parcel contained identical provisions. The deed conveying the conservancy parcel to the conservancy also contained a similar provision.

The judges said that the Supreme Court had erred in providing an easement to Mr. Trump. “The plaintiff does not have an express easement appurtenant by grant over certain land owned by the conservancy, entitling it to a right of way over the portion of Oregon Road starting at the southwest corner of the plaintiff's parcel and continuing south to the point where Oregon Road becomes a paved public road. Judges said the plaintiff is not entitled to widen Oregon Road pursuant to an express easement appurtenant. Further, the plaintiff is not entitled to the permanent injunction it requested, and the plaintiff is not authorized to remove the gate at a point on the property.”

Some neighbors and the conservancy argued that Mr. Trump’s plans to widen Oregon Road would have a negative impact on the natural character of the site.

Rick Werwaiss, executive director of the Eastern New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, issued a statement Wednesday hailing the recent court ruling. 

“The Nature Conservancy is pleased that the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court has ruled in favor of The Nature Conservancy on its appeal from the lower court’s determination that Seven Springs had an easement over The Nature conservancy’s land,” Mr. Werwaiss said in the statement. “The Appellate Division’s unanimous decision confirms the conservancy’s position that Seven Springs does not have an easement over Oregon Road, and vindicates its determination to fight for the protection of the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Preserve.”

Julius Cohn, an attorney with the law firm representing Mr. Trump’s Seven Springs, Cohn & Spector in White Plains, did not return a call Wednesday requesting comment on the Supreme Court panel’s ruling.

Mr. Trump purchased Seven Springs in 1995 for $7.5 million. For nine years, he pursued developing a world-class, 18-hole golf course, which was met by resistance from residents and leaders in Bedford, North Castle and New Castle, in which about 30 acres of the property is located. Critics of the golf course proposal claimed that it would draw too much vehicular traffic, and that pesticides used to maintain the greens could contaminate adjacent Byram Lake, which also serves as Mount Kisco’s primary source for its drinking water.

After pulling the plug on the golf course proposal in 2004, Mr. Trump announced plans to develop 15 multimillion-dollar homes, and renovating two existing residences on the property, including the Meyer Mansion, the Georgian-style, 38,000-square-foot former home of Agnes and Eugene Meyer, the late publisher of The Washington Post. There is also a Tudor-style mansion, called Nonesuch, on the site, formerly the home to the H.J. Heinz family that made its fortune from its iconic ketchup and other foods. Both mansions were built in 1919.

But over the course of a lengthy review process by the Town of Bedford, including by its planning and zoning boards, Mr. Trump significantly scaled back his plans for the estate, and now is seeking to build seven luxury homes — fewer than half of what was originally proposed — only on the 103-acre Bedford portion of the property.

The housing development plans hit a major roadblock regarding Bedford’s requirement that a second access road be incorporated in the plans to provide a connection between Bedford and North Castle, for emergency vehicles and other uses. Mr. Trump and his attorneys claimed they could pave a portion of Oregon Road, which is currently a 12-foot-wide dirt path. Mr. Trump’s claim of rights to the road, closed to vehicular traffic since 1990, led to the lawsuit by the developer against neighboring residents and The Nature Conservancy, which also claimed ownership of part of the road. Four years ago, the state Supreme Court threw out the lawsuit, but Mr. Trump successfully appealed that decision last year. The recent ruling by the Supreme Court judges’ panel, however, reverses that appeal.

“We are pleased with the ruling because it confirms that Seven Springs does not have the express easement it claimed to have over Oregon Road,” said Mr. Werwaiss.

Despite the court loss, the recent ruling won’t have any significant impact on Mr. Trump’s plans to build seven mansions and restore two existing ones on the Bedford portion of Seven Springs, town officials said this week.

“This ruling doesn’t affect the plans for the Bedford part of Seven Springs much at all,” said Dr. Donald Coe, chairman of the planning board, which earlier this year gave the revised Seven Springs application conceptual approval. “The way that the applicant designed it, and how the planning board basically gave its approval, the Bedford development is a stand-alone project, so this court decision won’t prevent it from moving forward. Although it may be a setback for the developer’s long-range plans for the large swath of Seven Springs that is in North Castle, this should not affect what’s planned for Bedford.”

Mr. Trump will construct a new road in Bedford to access the property, but that will in effect be a cul-de-sac. His plans to widen and develop Oregon Road would also follow a cul-de-sac style, but Bedford’s planning board suggested connecting the two roads. “The planning board had left the door open for a combination of those two roads, but at this point, that can’t happen,” Dr. Coe said. “There are other options for access roads in other municipalities, but as I said, that won’t really affect the Bedford plans in any significant way.”

In addition to building the seven high-end homes, Mr. Trump’s development plan includes restoration of the 19th-century Reynolds Farmhouse as a single-family residence and minor reconfiguration of some of the lots. An earlier plan to demolish the Reynolds mansion to build an equestrian center were abandoned, and that house will now undergo historic restoration as it is converted into the single-family home.

Before approval can be granted to move forward with construction, Mr. Trump must still obtain several variances from Bedford’s zoning board of appeals.


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June 15, 2012

Trump doesn’t have rights to widen road, court says