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Shelter Island and County preserve a 20-acre parcel of exceptional beauty

“It’s a breathtaking piece — one of the last great pieces,” Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding said about the acquisition of 20.1 acres of property owned by White family members for more than 100 years.

Generations of the family have been on the property overlooking West Neck Creek, a wooded site with a wide path leading to the water. Recently, Carla White Freyvogel showed a visitor the property that will soon be accessible to hikers and those who just want to spend quiet time in a naturally beautiful place.

Five contiguous parcels will be open to the public, while the family retains three parcels for their private use. “They’re really special people,” Mr. Gooding said of the family, many of whom are accomplished artists whose work is displayed in galleries around the world.

The family houses on the property are filled with art; Nelson “Beeb” Holbrook White still spends many hours painting there. It was his grandfather, Henry C. White, who originally purchased the property in the late 1880s. Nelson’s work has hung in galleries and museums throughout the United States, Russia and Italy since the 1950s.

The purchase price of the land is $11.1 million, shared equally by the Town and County in a deal that has taken five years. “Without the cooperation of Suffolk County officials this would never have taken place,” Mr. Gooding said. Many credited Mr. Gooding’s perseverance with saving the deal.

“Gordon made it clear, this was going to be the jewel in the crown,” Carla White Freyvogel said at the site Sunday.

It started in 2017, when Mr. Gooding asked Ms. Freyvogel why the family hadn’t considered preservation. She responded in kind, asking why the CPF Advisory Board had never come to the Whites to ask if they would consider preserving the parcels.

It took five years to close the deal because four families of Whites had to communicate with one another, determine what would constitute passive recreational use on the land, and ultimately agree to bypass what could have been a far more lucrative deal if they had sold the land for development.

Family members have all had strong feelings about protecting the environment, which gave rise to their initial inclination to consider preservation, Ms. Freyvogel said.

What brought it over the line was a statement by George White, the founder of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Conn. He told his family that preserving the land was important to him as a tribute to Henry C. White.

“We all grew up in the theater,” Ms. Freyvogel said, noting she had, as a child, had some roles as “extras” and even sold candy at the concession. But her own career took a different turn. It started with athletics at Oberlin College, where her track and field accomplishments while she pursued an undergraduate degree in art history would result in her being inducted into Oberlin’s Hall of Fame.

Carla White Freyvogel on the property overlooking West Neck Creek that her family has cared for and loved for generations. (Credit: Julie Lane)

After graduation, Ms. Freyvogel became head cross country coach at Wheaton College and then worked as a project manager for Nike for several years, developing materials for athletic footwear.

When she eventually left Nike, she pursued her interests in the arts and architecture, becoming an art dealer and manager of an architectural firm. She also worked with a real estate development company. Ms. Freyvogel’s husband, William Freyvogel, is an attorney who represented the family in negotiations with Town and Suffolk County officials.

Mr. Freyvogel told the Town Board last week that despite negotiating many land deals during his career, this experience was particularly satisfying because of the cooperation of Mr. Gooding, the Town Board and attorney Stephen Kiely, as well as County officials. “You brought this deal back from the dead,” he told Mr. Gooding.

Mr. Freyvogel also credited the leadership of Supervisor Gerry Siller and individual Board members, saying their patience and cooperation made it happen.

Mr. Siller said the Town Board had carried the deal a short distance forward, but it was Mr. Gooding who brought it 99.5% of the way to completion. Councilman Jim Colligan noted that adding this purchase to previous CPF-protected properties, Mashomack Preserve and Sylvester Manor, about 32% of the Island has been kept from development. What’s more, the water recharge from the site represents about 8% of the total water use drawn by residences annually.

Mr. Kiely, who came to the deal late when he was appointed to his post in January, was critical in eliciting some agreements from Suffolk County, Mr. Gooding said.

As close as White family members have always been, working on the transaction brought them even closer, Ms. Freyvogel said.