Developer Donald Trump has won the latest round in his quest to build a state-of-the-art golf course and luxury resort in the village of Menie, Scotland, when Balmedie councilors this week voted 7-to-4 in favor of his $2.1 billion (£1 billion) development proposal.
"I'm very honored by the decision," Trump said in New York. "We're going to do a really beautiful job, spending billions of dollars and creating lots of jobs."
Trump's plan for Menie has made headlines in northern Scotland since it was unveiled two years ago, wooing local businesses with its economic appeal, and antagonizing some residents who see it as an environmentally risky money-making scheme. Although Scotland has a strong golf culture, with a number of courses of international renown, such as St. Andrews and Carnoustie, the area also boasts a pristine countryside.
"The debate was guillotined by Anne Robertson, the lead councilor," said Mickey Foote, a spokesman for Sustainable Aberdeenshire, an environmental group opposed to the project, who attended the hearings. "She placed the motion at a premature point of the debate."
Councilor Debra Storr, who voted against the Trump International plan, was upset by the result. "People seem to have been trumped over by the Trump publicity machine," she told ABC News. "I know of at least one councilor who has voted in favor who is now having second thoughts," she said.
New Yorker Laura Zambrano is not surprised. A Member of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, she's just seen Trump receive building approval for the Soho Hotel, his latest development in downtown Manhattan.
"He has a huge organization behind him with lawyers who know every single loophole," the East 3rd Street resident said. Plans for the new condominium, which according to opponents was labeled a hotel to exploit city zoning rules, were announced on "The Apprentice," Trump's TV show. "Unfortunately," say Zambrano, "people are quite taken by that celebrity allure."
Opponents seemed to gain some support in Aberdeenshire last month when Trump attacked a local landowner, Michael Forbes, who lives on 23 acres in the middle of the proposed development, and refuses to sell. The kilt-clad quarry worker, with a mix of Scottish pride and country style, rallied those who see his struggle against the real estate Goliath as a universal one.
"This is not a level playing field," Foote said. "This is big business doing what it does best."
But one of Trump's supporters said it was a lot of noise for nothing. "We have to put personal feelings and prejudices aside," said James S. Milne, managing director of the Arbedeen-based Balmoral Group, a privately held company with interests in the building, marine and energy sectors.
Milne's support for the plan was featured in a full-page ad printed in a local paper last week, in which Trump International cited the backing of community business leaders. "I think it would have been crazy for this area to turn the plan down," he said.
Milne, whose brother Alex runs a mushroom farm in Barmedie, is convinced the complex will bring jobs to the area. All his brother has to fear, he said, is to lose "a few mushroom pickers."
Trump and his supporters have a few more hurdles to overcome before calling victory. Next up is the Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure committee meeting, Nov. 29. If the plan passes, it will then be brought before the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where ministers will decide whether to allow building part of the golf course over Scottish Natural Heritage sand dunes.
Last month, Trump's project director, Neil Hobday, said the dunes were crucial to the success of the golf project.
"If we didn't get it," Hobday told ABC News, "I think we'd have to think very carefully on whether we want to continue with the project."
Ministers can make an instantaneous decision, or call for a public inquiry. But Trump has found support among Aberdeen's business leaders, not least of which is the hotel industry. "The plan will bring people to our hotels and to Scotland in general," said Jim Byers, chairman of the Aberdeen Hotels Association. "It will guarantee steady business for at least the next five years."
Similar support from the Chamber of Commerce makes blocking the plan very unlikely. "It would be true to say that I am not optimistic that the Scottish ministers will bring it to public inquiry," Storr told ABC News.
For David Milne (no relation to James and Alex Milne), whose house borders the Trump estate, the prospect of seeing an eight-story resort rise at the end of his backyard is becoming very real. "We had a chance, we had a very good chance," he told us of the vote, "but councillors chose the easy way out, handing over the countryside lock, stock, and barrel to the developers."