Urban Outfitters' owner ruffles feathers in Chester County

On Richard A. Hayne's property are a mansion he plans to tear down and one of his many greenhouses, the light from which one neighbor has complained about.
On Richard A. Hayne's property are a mansion he plans to tear down and one of his many greenhouses, the light from which one neighbor has complained about.
Posted: March 13, 2011

The gentry of West Marlborough Township, one of Chester County's most prosperous pockets, prefer life below the radar.

When the area is abuzz, the likely source is bees, assiduously pollinating the thousands of protected acres that make up more than a third of the township's 17 square miles.

Still, the pastoral calm has from time to time been ruffled, for instance by the occasional audacious attempt to pave a dirt road; the uprising over construction of a private heliport in 2003; the mortifying revelation in 2009 that newcomer Tony Young had snookered a host of old-money denizens out of millions in a Ponzi scheme.

Now, West Marlborough eyebrows are arched anew over the arrival of a Forbes-certified billionaire - Richard A. Hayne, owner of the Urban Outfitters empire - and the emergence of a nearly 400-acre retirement compound that appears to be anything but retiring.

The work-in-progress already has given rise to expansive greenhouses and a cheese-making complex that, some neighbors fret, has an unsettling whiff of commerce.

What is Dick Hayne planning? Even township supervisors are wondering.

But whatever it is, he no doubt can afford it.

A longtime Chestnut Hill resident, Hayne, 63, occupies the No. 308 spot on Forbes magazine's latest list of American billionaires (up from No. 317 the previous year), with a net worth of $1.3 billion.

Although Hayne did not respond to The Inquirer's phone and e-mail requests for an interview, his real estate agent, Georgianna Hannum Stapleton, said his first choice of locale was not Chester County - already home to one billionaire, Campbell Soup heir Mary Alice Dorrance Malone. Acquiring a massive tract suitable for a man with a professed passion for farming, however, proved infeasible anywhere in the region but West Marlborough.

There, development is notable for its absence. Under township zoning, a new private property may be no smaller than 20 acres.

"We were fortunate to have so many foxhunters who required a lot of land," said Stapleton, one of fewer than 1,000 residents of a township carved out in 1729.

Still, for his 392.3 acres, Hayne had to cobble together three parcels, at an undisclosed total cost.

One was the 220-acre compound of the late Sir John Rupert Hunt Thouron, a celebrated horticulturist and philanthropist who sculpted his open fields into floral vistas. In 1976, while visiting America for its bicentennial, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him. He died in 2007 at 99.

Hayne also bought the 57-acre property of the disgraced financier Young, who pleaded guilty to money laundering and mail fraud and who is to be sentenced this month. A federal judge liquidated his ill-gotten assets. Hayne snapped up the buildings and land for $3.5 million.

The third parcel wasn't on the market, but Hayne persuaded Wayne Grafton, a past president of the Ludwig's Corner Horse Show Association, to part with nearly 115 acres.

Hayne isn't the largest landholder in West Marlborough, but at the moment he may be the largest employer of construction crews. The main Thouron house, where he will live, is a whirling dervish of workers engaged in renovation and expansion - with evidently much more to come.

His massive greenhouse network, 16,581 square feet with the potting sheds, has already impelled one neighbor to complain to the township. The light it emits, she told the supervisors, makes it look like "we had a UFO land in the middle of the field." (A township engineer is said to be checking into what sort of screening should be installed.)

Gus Brown, a steeplechase jockey-turned-real estate agent, said any arriviste committed to maintaining the area's pristine beauty would get a warm West Marlborough welcome. Otherwise, not.

He offered an example. The Whip Tavern, across Route 841 from what is now Hayne's place, had been beloved for its cozy, English-pub ambience. But recently it fell from some neighbors' grace by virtue of its success, which has generated overflow, illegal parking and late-night revelry.

"Whether it's the Whip or Dick Hayne," Brown said, "we just want people to respect the zoning regulations that make this area special."

Noting Hayne's celebrated entrepreneurialism, Brown counted himself among the many residents nervous that something more ambitious than a farm stand could crop up in their midst.

Indeed, Hayne epitomizes the self-made tycoon.

A former VISTA volunteer, he grew his Urban Outfitters empire from one funky Free People's Store in 1970. He ran it from the West Philadelphia home that he shared with then-wife Judy Wicks, who founded the White Dog Cafe.

In 1976, Hayne and second wife Margaret renamed the business Urban Outfitters. Now a global goliath based at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, it has spawned an eclectic-hip brood of boutique-style stores, including Anthropologie, Free People, and Terrain.

For one used to galloping, West Marlborough's measured trot might be a bit of a culture shock, township supervisors suspect.

"He definitely wants things done quickly," said William Wylie, chairman of the three-member board.

Hayne has never appeared before the supervisors, instead sending emissaries to their meetings in the unpretentious township garage. Wylie is the only one who has met him - at a social event.

"He seemed like a nice guy," Wylie said.

But Hayne already has collided with them.

In September, the greenhouse complex - recycled from the University of Maryland - began taking shape, in part to accommodate wife Meg's reported passion for orchids. Township officials gave zoning approval for the project, but notified Hayne's crew that a state Department of Environmental Protection permit was pending.

Still, the work went on.

On Sept. 22, the township issued a cease-and-desist order.

"I don't ever remember doing that before," Supervisor Michael M. Ledyard said, shaking his head.

Neither the order nor its $500-a-day fine stopped anything. The permit arrived on Oct. 12, and although Hayne appealed the fine, he wound up writing a settlement check on Dec. 17 for $8,846 - enough to cover the township's costs, Wylie said.

Also in September, the supervisors expressed concern about the potential scope of the cheese operation, for which Hayne had lured a cheese-maker from Tennessee. A Hayne representative assured them that "Doe Run cheddar" was for personal use and sale to "a few local stores and restaurants," according to township records.

The cheese is sometimes available at the Terrain at Styers store in Glen Mills, although an employee there said the cheese-maker was struggling to meet demand.

As Hayne customizes his new demesne, township supervisors say, Young's house is to be razed and replaced with a personal fitness center. Hayne recently applied for a permit to demolish one of the secondary Thouron residences and use its footprint to build a home for a relative.

Supervisor Hugh Lofting said Hayne wants the work done in time for a family wedding in the summer. "Whatever he does," Lofting said, "it'll be first-class."

Do not misunderstand West Marlborough, real estate agent Stapleton said. It eschews snobbiness, she assured.

"You can have one horse or 50 horses, and you share . . . the same love of open space," she said.

"The goal is never to be ostentatious. Tony Young didn't get that."

Neighbors hope Dick Hayne does.


Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815 or kbrady@phillynews.com.

 

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