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The $5 million buzz on 'The Manor'

Harford Hill Farm, an iconic estate in the Fallston/Monkton steeplechase country of western Harford County, is for sale – part of it, anyway.

About 57 acres of the 247-acre estate, at 2501 Pocock Road, including the iconic two-story, Georgian style mansion, stables, barns and other outbuildings, are listed for sale by Krauss Realty in Cockeysville for a cool $5 million.

Because of the property's strong ties to the area's steeplechasing and fox hunting heritage, the possible sale has many people on "The Manor" – short for My Lady's Manor – wondering what the future holds for Harford Hill Farm.

Around the time the listing went on the market last fall, Harford Hill owners Jeffrey Amling and Charles Noell III also applied to Harford County to create at least 12 building lots on about 18 acres on the east side of the property.

The lots, whose average size would be 1.5 acres, will be accessed by the extension of Engle Road, which currently ends in a small subdivision off of Route 152, according to minutes of the Jan. 15 Harford County Development Advisory Committee meeting, where the plan was reviewed.

Supposedly, the remaining 229 acres of the estate would remain untouched and placed in a conservation easement. That's not a given, however, and the proposed subdivision appears to have created some confusion among county officials, as well as those in the surrounding community, about the owners' ultimate intentions.

A county planning official said the easement would be required by regulations that permit the proposed building lots to have smaller septic reserve areas than is required for a conventional development in an area not served by public water and sewer. Otherwise, each lot would be required to be at least a half-acre larger.

Some people familiar with the farm and its ties to northwestern Harford's sporting set admit they are concerned about it possibly being broken up and/or developed.

But others say they believe the owners are trying to place a valuation on the property, which isn't unusual for high net worth individuals like Amling and Noell.

"We have no plans to develop," Amling wrote in an email Saturday. "We live and fox hunt here. We simply needed to protect development rights - due to restriction initiatives by Harford County."

But Amling also confirmed that the house and surrounding 57 are indeed for sale. When asked why, he replied: "I live in Florida."

Built by 'famed horseman'

Harford Hill's seven-bedroom, brick mansion was built in 1929 by S. Bryce Wing, "famed horseman and former president of the National Steeplechase Association and longtime Master of the Harford Hunt," according to the real estate listing.

Krauss Realty, whose lead Realtor declined to comment for this article, calls Harford Hill Farm "one of Maryland's iconic estates" and "the very core of Maryland's enduring legacy of horse properties," in the company's online promotion of the property.

Jay Griswold, a prominent member of Harford's steeplechasing community, said he spent time around the house as a child in the 1950s.

He recalled Mr. Wing as "a larger-than-life character" who was "always very jovial" and was very well known at the time as master of the hunts.

"I just remember him as a very jovial, nice man who loved his fox chase and his steeplechase," he said.

Griswold also recalled the home as "very large, very grand, a very lovely place."

Mr. Wing, who died in 1975, was a lifelong horseman and fox hunter who moved to Maryland from Long Island in the late 1920s, according to a biography on the website of the National Sporting Library, in Middleburg, Va.

In 1929, his wife's horse, Alligator, won the prestigious Maryland Hunt Cup.

Mr. Wing became master of the Harford Hunt (now the Elkridge-Harford Hunt) in the 1930s. He was president of the National Steeplechase Association from 1948 until 1964 and chairman of the Maryland Hunt Cup from 1962 to 1972, according to the biography. He was also a steward at Maryland's race tracks, officials who ensure races are run according to the rules and who are basically the law of the race track.

"Beyond his accomplishments, Mr. Wing was revered for his kindness, generosity and charm – a gentleman who loved the world of horses," notes the website marylandsteeplechasing.com

Following his death, the Maryland Hunt Cup Association established the S. Bryce Wing Award "to recognize people who make a similarly special contribution to Maryland timber racing," the website states.

Peter Winants, Mr. Wing's stepson from his marriage to Frances Leigh "Dolly" Bonsal Winants Wing, was the director of the National Sporting Library from 1991 until 1999. Mr. Winants, who died in 2009, was a noted equine photographer, author, amateur jockey, steeplechase expert and former longtime editor of Chronicle of the Horse magazine, according to his obituary in The Baltimore Sun.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Winants received the S. Bryce Wing Award at the 2009 running of the Maryland Hunt Cup. The award is conferred by the Maryland Hunt Association to a person who has contributed in an exceptional manner to Maryland timber racing.

Don Clippinger, communications director for the National Steeplechase Association in Elkton, said Mr. Wing's legacy was forged a long time ago, so he could not say if the house still holds any significance for the steeplechasing world.

Garet Winants, who is Peter Winants' son and Mr. Wing's step-grandson, said he had no personal connection to the estate and could not speak about it.

Global financiers

Amling and Noell, the Harford Hill property's owners, are successful investment bankers, who once worked together at the former old-line Baltimore investment bank Alex. Brown & Co.

Both men, who are in their late '50s or early '60s, continue to be active in global finance, and both are part of the My Lady's Manor area horse and fox hunting set, according to mutual acquaintances. In addition, Noell is fast becoming a player in international thoroughbred horse racing and breeding.

Amling, who has a home in Palm Beach, Fla., is a senior managing director of FTI Consulting, an international company headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla., that offers a variety of services, among them corporate restructuring. According to various biographical materials, he specializes in global media investments.

Noell, who has a home in Monkton, not far from Harford Hill, is co-founder of the investment banking firm JMI Equity, "a growth equity firm focused on investing in leading software and technology-enabled services companies," according to its website. The firm, with offices in Cockeysville and San Diego, lists him as founder and venture partner.

In 2012, according to county land records, Noell purchased the 324-acre Pocock Farm on the Harford-Baltimore County line from the Voss Family trusts for $5.4 million. Noell's wife, Barbara, was the widow of the late Jack Voss, who died in 1996 and was instrumental in putting much of his family's vast land holdings in western Harford into agricultural preservation.

Last May, according to an article posted on http://www.irishcentral.com Noell purchased an 18th century mansion and 120 acres in Navan, County Meath, Ireland, for about $6.3 million. The article describes Noell as "a billionaire businessman from Maryland."

Various news stories also say Noell was a member of an investment group, headed by a longtime associate, John Moores, that sold the San Diego Padres baseball team for a reported $800 million in 2012.

Last summer, Noell and Moores acquired the breeding stock of Ireland's Kilfrush Stud, according to an article in the Daily Racing Form.

The same article noted Noell and Moores had recently purchased Chanteclair Farm in Kentucky and owned another Kentucky farm they intended to use for cattle raising in the short term. They also hired H. Graham Motion, trainer of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, to train their racehorses.

Several people who have followed the Kilfrush Stud deal say they believe Noell and Moores recouped their initial investment after reselling just a few of the more fashionably bred mares from among the 30 Thoroughbreds they had acquired.

According to Harford County land records, Amling and Noell, and their wives at the time, jointly acquired Harford Hill Farm in 1993 for $1.8 million. The seller was the late Nancy Stautberg, Amling's wife's mother. Each couple received a one-half undivided interest in the property.

The couples later divorced between 2006-07, and the ex-wives subsequently transferred their respective interests to their ex-husbands as part of the divorce settlements, according to the deeds from those transactions.

Uneasy feeling

Like Griswold, a number of prominent residents of the My Lady's Manor area have expressed concerns about the future of Harford Hill.

Albert J.A. Young, a Bel Air lawyer who is active in the Elkridge-Harford Hunt, said he could not discuss the status of the Harford Hill property, although he acknowledged having some familiarity with what is transpiring with it.

At last month's development advisory committee meeting, where the subdivision plan was reviewed, Joann Bell, who owns a neighboring farm, asked two pointed questions about access to the main home, if the property is subdivided and developed.

Davenport, the review committed chairman, said the 57 acres couldn't be sold separately if the subdivision plan was approved as submitted, according to minutes of the meeting.

James Keefer, an engineer from Morris & Ritchie Associates of Abingdon, who was representing the property owners, insisted at several points that the owners were not necessarily going to develop, but merely wanted "to preserve the development opportunity," according to the minutes.

Both Davenport and Keefer told Bell the were unaware the property had been put up for sale, to which she seemed to be incredulous.

On Saturday, however, Bell said via telephone she did not want to talk about Harford Hill. "It's all been resolved," she said curtly.

Affected by septic law

A new state law that took effect in July 2013 only allows subdivisions of up to seven lots in the Tier 4, the law's most rural zoning category, Davenport said last week.

He explained the 12 lots Harford Hill's owners want to create could be grandfathered in with county approval, because the plan was submitted within the proper time frame to fall outside the new state law. The owners would then be able to subdivide the property into seven additional lots, for a total of 19 lots, Davenport said.

Krauss Realty's listing advertises the potential for five additional "densities," basically building lots, "subject to approval," presumably on the 57 acres that are for sale. That would be based on the permissible county density of one lot for every 10 acres on properties zoned for agriculture.

The five lots on 57 acres would fall within the new state septic limitation, as well, if the property is legally subdivided, but that also means the entire Harford Hill property could, conceptually at least, end up with a total of 24 new houses, in addition to the existing manor house and three nearby tenant houses. The 24 lots would still be about the same number that what would have been permitted under county zoning prior to the state septic law's passage.

But even all this has been called into question.

According to the development advisory committee minutes, the Harford County Health Department representative raised all kinds of issues about the wells and septic systems of the main house and three nearby three tenant houses.

Modifications to several of the proposed building lots were also requested, because the locations of their septic reserve areas and wells would not meet regulations. As of last week, no revisions had been submitted, according to Davenport.

"It's a beautiful house," Griswold said about the property, which also has six-car garage, pool and a stable that sits along a wood line. "It's a real part of Harford County history. I hope it remains in private hands, certainly."

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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