There goes the neighborhood: 6 billionaires who ruined their surrounding environs

Mark Zuckerberg & Co. have constructed lavish estates with little regard for their neighbors' comfort or privacy

Published September 28, 2014 12:00PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
(Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet The superrich have no shortage of opportunities to drop vast sums of money, but one of their favorite ways to do so is purchasing real estate. From Bel Air mansions to beachfront villas, lavish homes do double duty as solid investments and ostentatious displays of wealth. But unfortunately for their neighbors, building these dream homes requires many months of noisy, disruptive construction and in some cases, the final products occupy formerly public land. More obnoxiously, these houses are often secondary or tertiary residences, where the person commissioning them may only spend a few weeks out of the year. The neighbors getting up in arms at the construction are usually quite wealthy themselves—after all, billionaires aren’t going to settle down just anywhere—but here are six cases that stretch the boundaries of acceptability.

1. Mark Zuckerberg’s San Francisco Facebook fortress.

The Facebook founder and his wife, UCSF doctor Priscilla Chan, are doing heavy construction on their $10 million house in the hip San Francisco neighborhood of Dolores Park. Neighbors are furious, complaining that the 17-month project has taken up all available parking spaces on the street, caused constant disruption, and produced an omnipresent ear-splitting din. One neighbor even alleged that Zuckerberg had hired people to sit in parked cars overnight to ensure they could reserve any open spaces. Some 50 workers are on the site during the day, including on weekends, and the sidewalks are being torn out to install new fiber-optic cables. Even worse, the project is being overseen by round-the-clock security, leading one local homeowner to call the house “nothing short of a fortress.” According to city permits, the additions to the house include a media room, basement garage, office, wine room, mudroom and wet bar. This is only one of four properties the couple has purchased in the area near Facebook’s office, so we can only imagine how many other neighbors they have yet to piss off.

2. Peter Nygard’s sprawling Bahamas estate.

Canadian womenswear tycoon Peter Nygard has been working on his 150,000-square-foot Bahamas resort since the mid 1980s, which helps give an indication of how the place is decorated. According to Forbes, it is a “Mayan-style resort featuring 12 themed cabanas, volcanic smoking temples, a helipad, disco, casino and a human aquarium (with sharks on one side of the glass).” Tasteful. But local residents aren’t upset that the place is an eyesore; they’re furious that Nygard is bypassing environmental protections to expand the resort further, threatening the island’s delicate ecology. Bahamas-based environmental group Save the Bays has led the charge, taking legal action against Nygard for illegally appropriating public beachfront and endangering marine life by dredging the bay. The land where his property sits is one of the last undeveloped beaches that remains open to the public on the entire island.

3. David Shaw and Beth Kobliner’s Westchester compound.

The preciousness of this story makes it a bit harder to take at face value, but residents of the wealthy Hudson River Valley town of Hastings were upset when newcomers from New York City set about constructing a sprawling mansion in their midst. According to the New York Times piece about the conflict, Hastings is a liberal enclave where people have bumper-stickers that read “Make Dinner, Not War” and the socially acceptable thing to do is to play down your wealth (like Silicon Valley magnates wearing cargo shorts and hoodies to work). So it was an unwelcome surprise when hedge fund founder David Shaw and his wife, financial journalist Beth Kobliner, started work on their 30,000-square-foot modernist house, complete with pool house, three exercise rooms, tennis court, reading room, and an underground garage that is larger than most of the houses in town. The couple bought and demolished three enormous prewar homes to clear enough space for their mansion.

4. Mohamed Hadid’s Bel Air megamansion.

In another example of billionaires acting like the law doesn’t apply to them, L.A. developer Mohamed Hadid defied a number of local ordinances while building his 30,000-square-foot residence. Hadid, who is best known for being divorced from a woman on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, was recently forced to halt construction on the property after angry neighbors flooded the Department of Building and Safety with complaints. After purchasing the site, he illegally demolished the old house that stood there and set about building a 67-foot-high mansion in a neighborhood where the height limit is 36 feet. The enormous half-finished residence rests atop a hillside, compromising the stability of the land beneath it and causing mudslides to erupt onto neighboring properties. The local councilmember tried to intervene several times to ensure Hadid was following building codes, and at least three of his neighbors have filed lawsuits against him.

5. Vinod Khosla’s San Mateo beach grab.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has infuriated San Mateo residents by purchasing 53 acres of oceanfront land that has been public for over a century. Environmental and surfing groups took up the cause, suing Khosla for blocking the only access road to Martins Beach, a popular surfing spot near Northern California’s Half Moon Bay. They argue that by painting over a billboard welcoming people to the beach, erecting a locked gate on the beach road, and hiring armed guards to keep people out, Khosla is flouting the 1972 California Coastal Zone Conservation Initiative, which made the entire coast public property. Khosla, who co-founded Sun Microsystems, insists he has the right to keep trespassers off his property. In a major victory for the beach-going public, a San Mateo County judge ruled Wednesday that Khosla has to reopen the gate and apply for a hard-to-attain coastal development permit before ever attempting to block beach access again.

6. Larry Ellison’s private Hawaiian island.

In 2012, cofounder and CEO of Oracle spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Thanks to subsequent purchases, Ellison now owns every hotel room, an inter-island airline, nine private homes, and the island’s graveyard. While locals were initially excited about the flood of new construction money and infrastructure investments coming in, Ellison has delayed work on many of the projects, leaving the fate of the island’s 3,200 residents in the balance. This could be because Ellison, who has been called “the nation’s most avid trophy-home buyer,” is taking time to work on some of his other properties, including homes in Lake Tahoe, Rhode Island, Japan, and several California cities. Dropping the ball on an investment that allegedly cost between $300-500 million sounds like an appropriate level of arrogance for a man who is disrupting the ecosystem and economy of an entire island as a pet project.

By Allegra Kirkland

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