A wealthy New York City real estate entrepreneur has given Baltimore County a 177-acre horse farm in the gently rolling horse country of the Long Green Valley -- lock, stock and starting gate.
The Merryland Farm, appraised at more than $4 million, is on Bottom Road in the northeastern part of the county.
Seymour Cohn, 82, who donated the property, is on Forbes magazine's list of America's richest men, with a fortune estimated at more than $350 million.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden said yesterday that he will appoint a committee, with horseman Charles Fenwick Jr. as chairman, to solicit ideas for the farm.
"It could be an equestrian center, a wildlife refuge, among many other things," Mr. Hayden said. "We'll be in a transition stage until we get all the pieces together."
Mr. Hayden said that the costs of operation would be minimal and should be recovered through a horse boarding, breeding and training program already in place there.
"This is a significant contribution to all citizens of the county," he said.
The County Council is expected to formally accept the gift next week.
The property includes a restored 100-year-old farmhouse with four bedrooms and four baths, three fireplaces, a large den and TC sitting room, two kitchens, and several smaller rooms, plus a cottage and a tenant house. The farm has 92 horse stalls, breeding, yearling and training barns, and a five-eighths-mile track. A six-horse starting gate was valued at $50,000 by Towson appraiser Frederick P. Klaus, who appraised the property.
Mr. Cohn also gave the county all the farm equipment.
"There's not another horse-breeding farm available in Maryland like this," said Mr. Klaus, who has extensive experience in horse farm appraisal.
"This is one of the best I've ever appraised, and it's practically a turn-key operation," he said. "Not much work has to be done to bring it up to standards."
The property has an assessed value of $459,770, according to Jim Gibson, county director of finance. The county collects about $5,000 annually in real estate taxes.
"Assessment depends on what the land is being used for," Mr. Gibson said in explaining the difference between the assessment and the appraisal. "Agricultural land is traditionally assessed at a low rate. Land appraised as a gift is done at its highest, or best-use, value."
Wayne Harman, director of recreation and parks for the county, began negotiating for the property in February, after U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of the 2nd District learned it was available ,, and told Mr. Hayden.
Anne Chanin, who lives in Baltimore and is Mr. Cohn's niece, is a friend of Mrs. Bentley and encouraged her to seek it for the county.
Mr. Harman said that a change in the federal tax law, which permitted deduction of the appraised value rather than the purchase price, made the deal possible. He said Mr. Cohn's gift to the county was the largest anyone could recall.
Mr. Cohn, whose racing operation has produced several stakes winners, including Knightly Manor and Rock Talk, bought the farm in 1987 from Mrs. Henry Obre, daughter of copper magnate Solomon Guggenheim.
Mr. Cohn went into the commercial real estate business in Lower Manhattan in 1931 and gradually built an empire, according to the article in Forbes. His company, Sylvan Lawrence, owned more than 12 million square feet of office space at its peak. Mr. Cohn also has extensive holdings in London.
He has been a large contributor to the Democratic Party in Manhattan, according to an article in the New York Times. In 1985, he and his company contributed nearly $300,000 to the campaigns of Mayor Edward I. Koch and other officials.
Betty Shea Miller, who managed the farm for 23 years after selling it to Mrs. Obre in 1959 for $250,000, said that she was pleased the property had passed into county hands.
"I remember that Mr. Cohn only visited the farm three times," she said. "I think the county is very fortunate to get this property. It has so much history."
John Rigione, 75, an established horse trainer, and his wife, Carole, will continue to manage the farm.
Mrs. Rigione spent part of yesterday talking customers who want to board their horses at the farm.
"Mr. Cohn let the operation wind down after he decided to dispose of the property," she said, "and we only have about 15 horses now. But the county said this week to 'fill the place up.' "
Peter G. Angelos, new managing general partner of the Baltimore Orioles, might move some of his horses from his nearby Marathon Farm to Merryland, according to a county official.
Stall space at Merryland rents for from $4 to $25 a day, depending on the care required, Mrs. Rigione said.
At its peak in the 1970s, the farm had about 200 broodmares and four stallions and more than 30 employees, according to Mrs. Miller, the former manager.