Buyer selling Merryland, can't take `aggravation'

Horse farm purchase completed Oct. 4

October 14, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The Merryland Farm in Long Green Valley is back on the market -- put up for sale by businessman William M. Rickman Sr. the same day he concluded his purchase of the property from Baltimore County.

Rickman, a wealthy Montgomery County developer and chairman of a Delaware horse track, said he decided to sell the land after the farm's longtime manager died about two weeks ago.

"It's hard to get good people on a horse farm," said Rickman, 78. "It got to the point where I said, I don't need the aggravation."

Rickman purchased the farm from Baltimore County at a public auction in June, paying the $1.075 million appraised value of the property, which was once one of the premier horse breeding and training operations in the state.

He settled on the property Oct. 4 and on the same day put Merryland back on the market, asking $1.3 million.

"I just want to get my money out of it, and I'm gone," he said.

Rickman, chairman of Delaware Park racetrack, said he is still interested in operating a track in Maryland, but said, "If we don't get it, we won't cry about it."

Residents of Long Green Valley who had tried to stop Baltimore County from selling the 160-acre farm were surprised by the news. Although they had wanted the county to keep the land as a park, they had hoped Rickman would restore the farm to its status as a premier horse breeding operation.

"We are concerned about the property, but what can we do?" said Charlotte Pine, president of the Long Green Valley Association. "We don't think the county should have sold it in the first place."

The county acquired the property in 1993 when New York businessman Seymour Cohn donated the land in exchange for a $4 million tax break. Roger B. Hayden, who was county executive at the time, planned to turn Merryland into a major equestrian center to bolster Maryland's horse industry.

But county officials in the C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger administration concluded this year that Merryland didn't meet the county's park needs and decided to sell the land. Proceeds from the June sale went to preserve farmland in the area and the development rights on the farm were donated to the Maryland Environmental Trust so that the farm cannot be developed.

County officials said they, too, were surprised by news that Rickman is selling the land, although they pointed out that the property will remain a farm. "It's his farm and he's free to do as he wishes," said county spokeswoman Elise Armacost. "But it can't be developed."

Rickman was one of a handful of bidders for Merryland at the auction. The county rejected his original high bid of $1.025 million, and he agreed to pay the $1.075 million appraised value.

The purchase included not only the farm's rolling hills, but also several barns and houses and a racetrack. At the time, Rickman said he planned to spend $500,000 to $700,000 to restore the once-renowned breeding and training farm and use it to board and train his 100 horses.

Rickman said his plans for the farm began to unravel when manager John Rigione died after a long illness. In addition, Rickman said, he found dividing up his horse operation in Chesapeake City and moving some of it to Merryland would be more difficult than he had imagined. He is trying to buy a farm near his current operation.

The Merryland property is being listed by Patterson Price, a Delaware real estate company specializing in horse farms.

Rickman said he had heard from several people interested in buying the farm. Rickman said he tried to sell Merryland to the Pons family, who operate Country Life Farm near Bel Air, where racing champion Cigar was born. Although he offered to turn over his contract on Merryland before settlement, the Pons declined to take it, he said.

Until the farm is sold, John Rigione's widow, Carole, will continue to manage it.

"It seems we've been 14 years in limbo," said Rigione, who has worked for several Merryland owners.

About 50 horses are boarded at Merryland, which was founded in 1915. In the past few years, the farm has languished. Fences need painting, and barns need repairs.

Rickman said he was hopeful the farm would sell soon.

"I hated to do it," he said. "But I said, `Heck, I'm going to get out of it.' Don't think bad of me."

Pub Date: 10/14/99

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