1% solution: Sullivan's selling eight square miles


The names roll off the tongue like the distant mountains roll across the horizon– Castle Hill, Bundoran, Biscuit Run, Montalto– big, expensive stretches of Albemarle acreage under the hammer at record prices.

Now Thomas Sullivan wants to add his spread to the list. And quite a spread it is, comprising what his website, murcielagofarms.com, calls "the largest private estate in Albemarle County": Lone Oak (1,400 acres), Turkey Run (1,378 acres), Mt. Ida (430). And the biggest bauble of them all, Mr. Pleasant Farm, 3,950 acres and a "Jefferson-designed" mansion [see On Architecture, page XX].

Sullivan pegs his total offerings on the block at over 5,000 acres in a variety of properties, including a subdivision of 346 acres called "Lower Sherwood."

But lest skeptics suspect that the wireless mogul turned land baron expects to join the development stampede of fellow plutocrats Fred Scott and famille Breeden, he hastens to add, "I hope whoever buys the property will want to keep it as a farm."

Whether Sullivan himself has kept his acres as a "farm" is a matter of dispute. The subject of three Hook cover stories about road work and farm-carving on Blenheim Road ["Highway Man," August 12, 2004, "Blenheim brouhaha: She Sherwood like her name back," December 16, 2004; "Road warriors: Keene reads between the lines," September 22, 2005], he has angered neighbors like Laura Dollard and Paige McGrath for everything from tree clearing to road paving.

The road expansion and the use of the name Lower Sherwood, in particular, have riled McGrath and her mother, JoAnn McGrath, who operate a llama farm by that name on Blenheim Road.

"The noise level and activity around here have changed so much," Paige McGrath says. She believes that Sullivan's forest-felling has caused deer to proliferate over the fields where her llama herd lives, infecting 15 of her animals with a parasitic disease and requiring that they be euthanized.

But as angry as they were at Sullivan's paving and clearing– and apparently subscribing to the theory that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't– Paige McGrath is now angry about the proposed sale.

"We're concerned that a bigger developer could come in," she says. "What I'm afraid of is that someone with a lot of influence could get the zoning changed."

Sullivan might well be subscribing to another old saw– you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The website of one of his real estate brokers says the asking price of Mt. Pleasant is $28 million for nearly 2,500 acres. Want 3,950 acres? That's a cool $50 million. Want all 5,000 acres? It's only $8 million more, and you'd be getting about eight square miles of land including that plush 1828 manor house that Sullivan says he uses "mostly as vacation property."

In all, the buyer could grab over one percent of Albemarle County in one transaction– and may get to keep Sullivan as a neighbor.

"We have more than we need," he says. "We'll put it all up and see what sells, and let the chips fall where they may."

Sullivan has long contended that he's simply "stitching old farms back together" and then selling them.