Flipping the farm

Merryland: Public's interest still protected despite new owner's quick sale of Balto. Co. property.

October 15, 1999

WILLIAM Rickman Sr. may have cast doubt on Baltimore County's decision to sell Merryland farm when he put the historical parcel back on the market the same day his purchase became final. But any fair-minded analysis would have to conclude the public's interest in this property has been protected.

After receiving 160-acre Merryland Farm as a gift in 1993, the county had planned to spend about $2.5 million making it into a major equestrian center. Unable to raise the needed private donations, the county allowed the farm to fall into disrepair.

Once county officials and executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger determined the farm did not fit the county's recreation needs, they decided to auction it off. Mr. Rickman, a Montgomery County developer, owner of Delaware Park racetrack of several thoroughbred farms, paid the appraised value for the property.

Mr. Rickman said he wanted to move some of his horse breeding and training operations from Cecil County. His plans apparently unraveled when Merryland's manager died this summer. Mr. Rickman also discovered that dividing his horse operations would have been more complicated than he had anticipated.

Opponents of the county's sale of Merryland will claim that Mr. Rickman is "flipping" -- the real estate term describing a quick sale after a purchase, often at a much higher price. Mr. Rickman is asking $1.3 million, about $225,000 more than his purchase price. It remains to be seen whether anyone will pay that much.

Regardless of who buys the property, though, Merryland will remain a farm. Before the sale to Mr. Rickman, the county government donated the farm's development rights to the Maryland Environmental Trust, ensuring it will remain open space.

That condition protects the public's interest in the place -- regardless of who buys it from Mr. Rickman, or how big a profit he turns from the sale.

Pub Date: 10/15/99

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