Trump appears to gain edge in his ongoing dispute with Mar-a-Lago neighbors

MIAMI — The voters evicted Donald Trump from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but efforts by Palm Beach townsfolk to prohibit him from living at Mar-a-Lago may be coming up short.

Trump has the right to live at Mar-a-Lago despite a decades-old agreement with the Town of Palm Beach converting his iconic home to a private club, town attorney John Randolph said Tuesday during presentations on the issue to the Town Council. His advice, based on the specific language in town zoning codes, was the latest in an increasingly bitter dispute between Trump and some residents of Palm Beach, who contend a private club cannot also be a private home.

The council also heard presentations from various attorneys representing Trump, his Palm Beach neighbors, and a local group, “Preserve Palm Beach,” but is not set to make a decision on the matter until April. Randolph stressed his comments were simply “informational.”

The 1993 rezoning agreement that converted Mar-a-Lago to a club and saved Trump $250,000 in annual taxes included a stipulation that club members be allowed to stay in guest rooms only for up to three weeks a year for periods of no more than seven days at a time. In signing, Trump agreed the property would never again be used as anything but a private club.

When Trump declared his intention to live at Mar-a-Lago after vacating the White House, some neighbors wrote to the town and U.S. Secret Service alleging the move would violate Trump’s use agreement. Reginald Stambaugh, the attorney representing the neighbors, said there have been “innumerable violations over the decades” and urged the council to uphold the memorandum of use.

Trump’s longtime lawyer John Marion argued in a Jan. 28 letter that Trump could live at Mar-a-Lago under the agreement because as owner he is a “bona fide employee” of the club. Town zoning laws allow employees to live on the grounds of a private club, according to a written memorandum from the town attorney.

“If you agree the former president fits this definition of employee, it is my opinion that he is entitled to reside at Mar-a-Lago,” Randolph told the council Tuesday. “There is no specific language in the declaration-of-use agreement that prohibits him from residing there.”

Marion echoed him, pointing to various jobs Trump does at the club — such as evaluating staff, recommending members and overseeing improvements — as proof of employment.

Not everyone on the Zoom call agreed.

“As a whole, the (town attorney’s) memorandum is presenting an overly simplistic view of the legal issues involved,” said Phillip Johnson, who spoke on behalf of Preserve Palm Beach. He said the group would be providing a more thorough response ahead of the decision in April.

Some argue Trump is violating a promise made by his lawyer. Paul Rampell assured the council at an initial meeting in 1993 that Trump would not permanently live at Mar-a-Lago.

“Another question asked of him is whether or not Mr. Trump will continue to live at Mar-a-Lago,” Rampell said at the time. “The answer is ‘No,’ except that he will be a member of the Club and would be entitled to use the guest rooms.”

That statement is not included in the contract with the town. Marion said Tuesday that the quote is taken out of context and that the understanding had changed by the time the actual agreement with the town was signed.

“He’s stayed there before (the 1993 agreement). He’s stayed there after many, many times over the last 20 years,” Marion said. “This is a debate that I think is silly, to be honest with you,” Marion told the council Tuesday.

Trump has a long history of suing local authorities over unfavorable rules and regulations. After buying the property, Trump sued the county in an unsuccessful attempt to lower his property taxes. Then he pursued a lawsuit over the right to subdivide the property. Again, he was unsuccessful.

It’s unclear how the current dispute will be resolved. Members of the council largely remained silent Tuesday and the meeting adjourned with only one member making a statement.

“It does not appear to me to have been a violation (of the 1993 agreement),” said Maggie Zeidman, council president.