Deal closes on first Sylvester Manor development rights purchase

An emailed announcement from Sylvester Manor Educational Farm Inc. on Shelter Island sent out early on Wednesday afternoon indicated that the town, county and federal government had closed on a deal to preserve a key agricultural parcel there and help build an endowment for the farm.

The email reads: “As of THIS MORNING, more than 26 acres of Sylvester Manor farmland has been preserved for agricultural use and the $2.4 million generated from the sale of the development rights has been generously given by Eben Ostby to the non-profit organization!”

In fact, Mr. Ostby first gave the 26-acre parcel known as the “Big Field” to the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, Inc. and, once the new deed was field, checks for the development rights purchase were handed to an official of the farm’s board of directors.

Mr. Ostby is the owner of the 243-acre Sylvester Manor property (now minus 26 acres, which belong to the farm) on Gardiners Creek in the heart of Shelter Island. He inherited the 17th-century family estate after its last family occupant, Alice Fiske, died in 2006. The founding of the Educational Farm was spearheaded by Mr. Ostby’s nephew, Bennett Konesni. Its goal is to preserve the property, including its 1743 manor house, as well as a local, organic, non-industrial approach to farming.

Another closing is expected later this year on the development rights of a 57-acre parcel, which will bring total revenues to the farm of more than $7.2 million. Mr. Ostby and Mr. Konesni have said the money was vital to establishing an endowment to help with operating costs.

All appeared in order for the closing to proceed, Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty reported at Tuesday’s  Shelter Island Town Board work session. He attended the closing at the County Treasurer’s office in Riverhead.

The cost of the development rights was $91,000 an acre. Of the $2,398,000 price tag, the town paid 19 percent or $456,843.96 out of funds raised through its 2-percent open space tax on most real estate transactions, which is paid by the buyer. The county paid $1,650,969 using designated open space revenues from its sales tax and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a farm grant totaling $866,428.

Mr. Dougherty said that today, Wednesday, would be “an exciting day for Shelter Island and many thanks to our friends Eben and Bennett, the whole Sylvester Manor team” and the county and the federal government.

He noted that Mr. Konesni and his wife Edith with would be performing English folk ballads, Appalachian music and Scandinavian fiddle tunes today, Wednesday, August 8 at 6 p.m. at Volunteer Park on Bridge Street.