The historic land deal that closed in Riverhead on August 7 after many months of delay over technical issues included two major transactions: the first was a gift of Sylvester Manor’s 26.2-acre “Big Field” at the corner of Cobbetts Lane and Manhanset Road from owner Eben Ostby to the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm.
Only after the new deed was filed with the county Wednesday, the parties proceeded to step two: the sale of the Big Field’s development rights to Suffolk County and Shelter Island Town through their respective open space preservation programs.
The sale allows the manor to retain title of the land — but only for agricultural use — and yet liquidate part of the asset to yield $2.389 million. Along with the proceeds of another pending sale of development rights on a 57-acre parcel just to the south of the Big Field, the manor will realize more than $7.2 million — money that Mr. Ostby has said was crucial to the viability of the manor and the family mission to preserve it as a working farm.
Scott Chaskey, the vice president of the Sylvester Manor Board of Directors, signed the papers accepting the land. Mr. Ostby, the heir of the 17th-century family estate who lives in California, was represented at the closing by attorney Wayne Bruyn.
The manor received three checks at the closing, according to Sylvester Manor Educational Farm Executive Director Cara Loriz, who was among 15 people on hand at the County Treasurer’s Office Wednesday for the transactions. One check was from the county in the amount of $1,650,969; one from the town for 19 percent of the total cost or $456,843.96 (paid out of the town’s 2-percent open space tax fund); and one from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, a grant of $866,428. The checks were delivered to Mr. Chaskey and the manor’s farm visionary, Bennett Konesni (Mr. Ostby’s nephew), by the Fidelity National Title Insurance Company rep, Bob Defrese.
“With the gift of this land,” commented Ms. Loriz on Thursday, “a non-profit dedicated to preserving and cultivating Shelter Island’s rural character and history now has the start of an endowment and owns a significant piece of property. This historic farm field is controlled not by a national or regional organization but by a local board of Shelter Island homeowners and East End farm and preservation advocates.”
Sara Gordon of the Peconic Land Trust, who helped facilitate the deal and attended the closing, commented Thursday, “The marvelous fact is that, due to Eben’s and Bennett’s extraordinary vision and Eben’s generosity, the non-profit Educational Farm now owns the Big Field – it is title holder to 26.2 acres, and through the partnership with the town, county and federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, the farm has preserved that land for agriculture and established an endowment. Pretty terrific!”