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The once and future Shelter Island farm

MARTIN BURKE PHOTO A plowed field at Hampshire Farms.
MARTIN BURKE PHOTO A plowed field at Hampshire Farms.

Who owns the farm at 60 Smith Street and what are they doing with it?

On 63.6 acres in the middle of Shelter Island lies one of the last open stretches of farmland on what was once an island of farms. The current owner is a limited liability corporation named “60 Smith Street LLC,” which bought the property on September 23, 2014. The individual behind the LLC insists on anonymity, according to Ursula Dobson, the owner’s representative.

Because the land cannot be built on, the current assessed value is $2,022,500, a fraction of the value with development rights.

When the fields were cleared and plowed last month, Islanders wondered who did it, and why. Ms. Dobson released a statement saying that a cover crop will be sowed to improve the health of the soil and the owner is “looking to use the land agriculturally in the future.”

In 1964, Dr. Bernard Ryan, a surgeon from Bayshore, and his wife Mary bought the property, which had been a potato farm. Some Islanders who were old enough to handle a firearm in those days still remember it as a good place to hunt. For years, Dr. Ryan continued to use the land for potatoes.

Diana Malcolmson, a horse trainer and riding instructor, rode on the land beginning in the early 1970s. In the 1980s she heard that Dr. Ryan had 80 acres he didn’t know what to do with. “So, I went and I chatted him up,” Ms. Malcolmson said. “He told me I’d come to him at just the right time.”

She formed a company in 1986 that leased the land from Dr. Ryan, built barns and paddocks and named it Hampshire Farms after the county in England where she was brought up. The farm operated on land visible from Smith Street, between Midway and Menantic, and the view south took in fields, fences and horses all the way to Bowditch Street.

Ms. Malcolmson taught several generations of riders, totaling about 100 students. Her experience running Shelter Island’s equestrian center for almost 30 years is the subject of a book she’s written, due out this summer from East End Press.

In 2000 Dr. Ryan expressed interest in selling the property. Ms. Malcolmson, hoping to help him find owners who would maintain the place as a horse farm, found four like-minded buyers.

Dr. Ryan decided to hold on to a share so he and his family could continue to be involved with the land. He and the four families created the Ryan Farm LLC which, in conjunction with the Peconic Land Trust, contracted to sell the development rights on 63.6 acres to Suffolk County and the Town of Shelter Island in May 2002.

A subsequent overlay easement on about 50 acres of the land protected it from the construction of any structures, even agricultural ones. The stage was set for the place to continue as a horse farm, which it did for another 15 years.

In September of 2014, the Ryan Farm LLC sold to the new owner, identified as 60 Smith Street LLC. The owner has agreed to allow the retired horses of Hampshire Farms to stay, something Ms. Malcolmson is grateful for. “I can’t put those horses anywhere else,” she said. “I’d have to put them down. Some are 32 or 33 years old. [The owner] has been so lovely. He’s allowed us three or four paddocks.”

The future of the farm is still up in the air, but without development rights, it cannot be built on. “I’m hoping that someone might come along and start another horse farm,” Ms. Malcolmson said.