Purchase rescues Nixon's Farm in Howard

March 12, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

Friends and associates of Randy Nixon bought 97 acres of his family's half-century-old West Friendship farm, including the well-known catering facility, for $2.5 million Thursday in an auction at the Howard County Courthouse.

The purchase amounts to a rescue of the Nixons' plans to develop most of the property as a multigenerational, green-designed community of about 30 to 40 new homes, said Robert Brantley, 64, a financial adviser to the family. It will also allow Randy Nixon to continue operating the catering and event business on the property.

"You can still get married at Nixon's Farm," Brantley said after the auction.

He said the new community will be "elder-focused but not age-restricted." The idea is to have large homes in a community designed for several generations of a family, including specialized care for the elderly.

"It's a vision this family has had for 40 years," Brantley said. Financing for the development is in process, he said, and the purchase was designed to save the land and business in the interim.

The purchase ends the years of debt hanging over the popular spot for weddings, picnics and political events. In addition, the State Highway Administration intends to pay the purchasers $455,850 to buy a permanent easement on 36 acres along Route 32 to use as a wetland mitigation area, where trees will be planted. Winning bidder George Brown, president of Total Construction Services in Ellicott City, said that portion of the property, located just south of Interstate 70, is in a flood plain and not suitable for building.

The sale represents a loss for lender Columbia Bank. A bank representative, who made several bids to increase the price, declined to discuss the deal.

Brantley and Brown said it will be several years before construction begins. Meanwhile, Nixon's Farm, familiar to generations as the scene of marriages and other social gatherings, will continue in business, Brantley said.

Thursday's auction was the fourth attempt to sell the property within a year. Nixon negotiated a postponement in April and filed for bankruptcy in June, staving off the second scheduled sale. A snowstorm postponed the event again last month.

Court files showed three foreclosure cases brought against the property since 2002, with more than $3 million owed in loans on the largest portion of the farm.

The original plan to develop the land for new homes stalled with the recession, and Nixon has struggled to get that back on track while averting a foreclosure sale.

Nixon, 53, lives with his family in one house and his mother, Mildred, lives in another on the property, which was bought by his father, Roosevelt Nixon, in the 1950s. The family operated what was then called Glenwood Country Club in the 1960s. In 1972, the elder Nixon was fatally shot during a street robbery in Baltimore. His widow took over operating the farm, and changed its name to Nixon's Farm.

Brown said he has been involved in planning for the project for the past 18 months. Custom home builder Alan Klatsky of Klatsky Homes in Owings Mills will also be involved, Brantley said, though not as an investor.

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