Business News

When your CEO neighbor isn't so neighborly

The chief executive and NIMBY

Hill Street Studios | Blend Images | Getty Images

There goes the neighborhood. Why should it affect neighbors when a wealthy and powerful figure moves to that mansion behind the hedgerow? It's different when that neighbor can buy up the neighborhood.

While they could be the best kind of neighbors, silently residing on their estates, and maybe even only rarely home due to business travel, CEOs make appearances on both ends of the "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) complaint.

They have the means and the lawyers to take matters into their own hands or to sue to prevent something they don't want nearby, but it doesn't always work in their favor. They also have the means to keep building things on their properties, and that doesn't always go over well with the neighbors.

Read ahead for examples of CEOs being accused of being bad neighbors. Groups will be formed in protest. Rude things will be said. Lawsuits will be won, lost and withdrawn.

—By Colleen Kane, Special to CNBC
Posted 23 April 2014

Harold Lutnick

Howard Lutnick, chairman and chief executive officer of Cantor Fitzgerald, LP.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Harold Lutnick recently filed a $36 million lawsuit when he was prevented from building a basketball court on his 40-acre Hamptons estate. The concern expressed by the town of Southampton was over the court potentially blocking views. Lutnick's attorney David Neufeld told the Daily News, "If you're offended by a basketball court 40 acres away, there aren't many places on Suffolk County that you could live."

This lawsuit comes on the heels of an $80 million lawsuit he filed in February when the town demanded he remove a jungle gym, hedge and baseball field before he could get approval to build a barn. Plans for the barn were also scaled down. Lutnick's estate plans also include a three-acre apple orchard and vineyard.

Nelson Peltz

Nelson Peltz
David A. Grogan | CNBC

Trian Fund Management founder Nelson Peltz installed a helipad at his 106-acre Bedford, N.Y., estate (aptly named High Winds) so he could commute by air to Manhattan. Needless to say, this did not fly quite as well with the neighbors.

"When that thing goes, all the people around the whole area, their dishes vibrate on the hutches," Richard Brown, the caretaker for the neighboring estate of actor E.G. Marshall. told the Los Angeles Times. "'Hello, Nelson,' we say. It's whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp with those blades, faster and faster. Unbelievable."

Marshall led a battle against the helicopter and pointed out that there was a local ordinance against choppers in residential areas, but he felt the man who has headed up such corporations as Snapple and Arby's was not being held responsible like others might have been. Peltz's defense was that the estate's previous owner had landed a private plane there, so a pattern of non-compliance was already established. Indeed, the plane hangar had been a selling point when he bought the estate.

The case was settled out of court and the helicopter commutes ended, reported The New York Times.

But don't cry for Peltz, who still has an indoor hockey rink with a Zamboni and a flock of albino peacocks, as well as a pair of (legally housed) jets awaiting his orders nearby, Gawker reported.

Dean O'Hare

Dean O'Hare
Kevin Lorenzi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In the early aughts, former Chubb Chairman and CEO Dean O'Hare caused some hubbub among his neighbors in Far Hills, N.J., drawing complaints about loud yard power tools at all hours, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The neighbors claim to have seen O'Hare perched in the trunk of his car wielding his leaf blower as his wife drove up the driveway.

The complaints about alleged noises emerging from the 20-acre estate, Crestline, were not limited to leaf blowers but also include lawn mowers, snow blowers, and a car vacuum in the garage. So after a marathon afternoon into evening of leaf-blower noise, a pair of retired neighbors called the police.

"He says to do an unnatural act to yourself," the septuagenarian neighbors Marvin and Leonora Flowerman say the police officer told them, in the Journal report.

O'Hare told the The Star-Ledger these complaining neighbors were "penny millionaires." "I probably could buy and sell most of them," he said.

The events led to a 2002 borough council meeting where the possibility of a leaf blower after-hours ban was raised.

But O'Hare also reportedly sent a letter to the mayor in December 2001, indicating that his equipment had been tested and met the state guidelines for decibel levels. It also said he probably overreacted and he promised he would try to avoid further disruptions. He also said in that he traveled extensively and was only at home 62 nights in 2001, casting the complaints as grossly exaggerated.

O'Hare could not be reached for comment.

Ira Rennert

American billionaire Ira Leon Rennert.
Joe Corrigan | Getty Images

A 2012 article in Mother Jones covered a neighbor's case against Ira Rennert, CEO of The Renco Group and former Hummer magnate, who drew ire with his loud chopper commutes to and from his Fair Field mansion in the Hamptons, said to be the largest inhabited residence in the country.

The neighbor, Frank Dalene (also a CEO of a luxury home building company) formed the Quiet Skies Coalition in response not just to Rennert's two choppers, but to a situation that had grown intolerable in the Hamptons, where some CEOs commuted daily to and from Manhattan's 34th Street heliport. Dalene counted 162 such private choppers.

A spokesman for Rennert told CNBC last year, "Singling out Mr. Rennert in this manner is unfair. Mr. Rennert is but one of numerous corporate executives, as well as many Hamptons residents, who travel by helicopter. Mr. Rennert's crew takes the utmost care not to exceed height and noise restrictions and to follow all flight regulations."

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Getty Images

"Steve Jobs and the abandoned mansion" sounds like the title of a children's mystery story, but for California preservationists it was a mystery why Jobs wanted to tear down the Jackling House, Gawker reported. It was built in 1925 for the copper magnate Daniel Cowan Jackling and designed by the architect George Washington Smith, who helped popularize the Spanish Colonial Revival style throughout the state.

The late Jobs lived in the house for 10 years, then leased it out before letting it sit vacant. Preservationists formed the group Uphold Our Heritage to save the home. After the group had initial courtroom success toward blocking the demolition, Jobs appealed, and the house was razed in 2011 to make way for a smaller contemporary home that was never built.

Donald Trump

Jim McIsaac | Getty Images

Last year, Donald Trump sued to prevent the offshore construction of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), because it might sully the view from his Scottish hunting lodge residence, Menie Estate, also the site of Trump International Golf Links, E&E Publishing reported.

Trump told E&E Publishing that EOWDC supporter and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is "a man whose obsession with obsolete wind technology will destroy the magnificence and beauty of Scotland."

When he lost the suit earlier this year, Trump declared he would now focus all of his investment and energy on a new golf course he already purchased on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, according to Scotsman.com.

Larry Ellison

Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison
Getty Images

What do you do when you buy a home in San Francisco's Pacific Heights and your bay view is blocked by three redwoods and an 80 year-old acacia tree? If you are the Oracle CEO, you might offer to buy the property or when that fails, send a crew down the hill there to trim them yourself, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Ellison said he didn't believe the accusations were true, according to the The Wall Street Journal. In 2004, a dispute arose when the owners of the property where the trees stood, Bernard and Jane Von Bothmer, attempted to landmark the acacia.

The dispute was settled with the Von Bothmers agreeing to keep the trees trimmed to within two feet of Ellison's home's second floor, according to website Curbed San Francisco.

Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson, chairman, president and CEO of Exxon Mobil.
Justin Solomon | CNBC

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson made headlines recently when he joined a lawsuit to stop construction of a 160 foot water tower near his residence, Bar RR Ranch in Bartonville. Texas. The tower might be used for hydraulic fracking, which would bring bothersome truck traffic.

Tillerson's NIMBY stance came much to the amusement of fracking opponents, given his line of work, which commonly employs fracking for oil and gas production. After a public uproar pointing out the hypocrisy, Tillerson dropped out of the suit this week, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

Larry Page

Google's Larry Page
Getty Images

Google CEO Larry Page raised eyebrows in his Old Palo Alto neighborhood in 2011 when building a GreenPoint Rated, energy-saving, solar-paneled "green" house, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The issue was with the method of clearing out the basement footprint, which involved a steady stream of water going down the storm drain.

"I was concerned because I'm saving water by the half-cupful in my kitchen so I can have as much water as I can for my garden," one neighbor, Sue Kemp, told the Mercury News. "It was bugging me to see all that water going down into the storm sewer."

City officials said the water pumping was legal and of no significant environmental concern. Kemp expressed concern that the water would be better purposed to nourishing local trees and plants.