Trump faces resistance from post-presidency Florida neighbours

Trump wants to live at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving Washington but not all of his neighbours are welcoming him.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, December 24, 2019 [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

Palm Beach, Florida, USA – Donald Trump’s presidency is in its final days, forcing the First Family to find new living accommodations – but some prospective new neighbours in the elite Florida community where he wants to move to are fighting to keep him out.

A group of Palm Beach residents who live near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club are asking town officials to keep Trump from moving there permanently after his presidency. They cite an agreement he made nearly 30 years ago that forbids him from establishing residency on the property. The matter was first reported by The Washington Post.

According to the complaint, Trump, who bought the sprawling oceanside estate in 1986, was granted permission to convert it into a private club in 1993, but only if it no longer served as a private residence. The 126-room mansion was built in 1927 as a residence for Marjorie Meriweather Post, the daughter of cereal magnate CW Post. As part of Trump’s original agreement, guests could only stay overnight for three weeks a year, and not longer than seven days at a time, the Post reported.

As president, however, Trump has spent more than 130 days at the Club, according to the Post, making the property his “Winter White House”.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is no longer zoned as a private residence [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Palm Beach is one of the most exclusive and expensive regions in the United States and is home to many of the nation’s billionaires and millionaires who live here seasonably to enjoy tropical weather and a thriving social life in wintertime. Trump is spending the December holidays with his family at Mar-a-Lago while taking breaks to golf on his company’s courses during the day.

Because of security protocols required to accommodate presidential travel, his visits require road closings and White House staff and Secret Service presence, which neighbours argue have interrupted their lives on the island. Trump also had a helipad installed on the property – the only one allowed in Palm Beach – which was permitted only for official business as president. Trump will still have a reduced Secret Service detail for life when he leaves office.

The New York Times reported that a lawyer representing Nancy S DeMoss, who lives next to the Trump property, sent a letter to the Town of Palm Beach through Lawyer, Reginald Stanbaugh arguing that he does not have the right to live at the club.

“Per the use agreement of 1993, Mar-a-Lago is a social club, and no one may reside on the property,” Stanbaugh’s letter reads, according to the Times. “To avoid an embarrassing situation for everyone and to give the president time to make other living arrangements in the area, we trust you will work with his team to remind them of the use agreement parameters.”

Kirk Blouin, Town Manager of Palm Beach, said officials would not address the matter until it knows for a “fact” that Trump intends to live on the property.

“The town is not aware of the president’s intent in this regard and has no evidence to support said claim,” Blouin said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “If and when the town learns, as a matter of fact, that President Trump intends to reside at Mar-a-Lago, it will address the matter appropriately at that time.”

Trump speaks to the press following a news conference in the White and Gold Ballroom at his club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida April 15, 2011 [File: Joe Skipper/Reuters]

This would not be the first time the president has faced a fight with local authorities; Trump has faced issues with officials here for years.

In 2006, Trump installed an enormous 7.6 by 15.2-meter American flag on the Mar-a-Lago property, which flouted a local ordinance that restricted flag size on the island. The city tried to fine him $1,250 a day. Trump sued, and the parties eventually reached an agreement over the matter.

In 1995, 2010 and 2015, Trump attempted to sue Palm Beach County over noise from air traffic coming from the city’s international airport. (The planes have been redirected during his presidency for security reasons, but flights over Mar-a-Lago could resume when he is no longer president.)

Laurence Leamer, a chronicler of Palm Beach residents and author of Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace, said Trump has been a controversial figure in Palm Beach since he first arrived in the 1980s.

“He was a much-despised outsider when he showed up. He’s vocal and over the top,” Leamer said. “Palm Beach is a very intimidating place to most people. It’s the strangest place. It’s insulated. Everything is hidden away. And that’s not Donald Trump. So he had problems with the old elite.”

Given Trump’s record of wrestling with the Town of Palm Beach, Leamer said he will probably find a way to live in the area, regardless of neighbour complaints.

“He doesn’t care about laws. He’s going to find a way around it. That’s what he’s done in his business life, that’s what he did in Washington in four years as president and that’s what he’s always done here,” Leamer said. “The town does not like controversy. To me, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll say he can’t live there. He’ll appeal and find a way around it.”

Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, December 24, 2019 [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

Trump may avoid the fight by merely finding another property to live in. The New York Post reported that the family is looking for houses on the island, citing “potential conflicts”.

Palm Beach real estate listings are filled with properties that, like Mar-a-Lago, span the entire width of the island. The region is notorious for its ability to provide high levels of privacy and security for its well-heeled and, often, famous residents.

“Based upon the president’s original choice here in Palm Beach, which is Mar-a-Lago, it’s going to be very hard to surpass that,” said Paulette Koch, a veteran Palm Beach real estate broker who specialises in multimillion-dollar properties on the island. “But there are some extraordinary properties. That’s what we’re known for. And there are a handful that he might be interested in that are in his neck of the woods.”

Trump, a lifelong New Yorker, formally declared his intention to live in Florida when he filed a “declaration of domicile” in Palm Beach in 2019.

“I will be making Palm Beach, Florida, our Permanent Residence,” Trump declared in a tweet at the time, adding that he had been “treated very badly” by New York officials. “I hated having to make this decision, but in the end it will be best for all concerned.”

The move was most likely for income tax purposes, allowing the president to avoid New York’s city and state tax rate. Florida, by contrast, has no income tax, and the Republican tax overhaul that Trump signed in 2017 would allow him to save even more.

“Good riddance,” replied New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “He’s all yours, Florida.”

Source: Al Jazeera