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Commissioners ponder disputed road request; Latest concern in 10-year dispute is whether county should own or vacate a portion of land

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Commissioner James Duffey and property owner Trey Nesselrodt stand near the berm that Nesselrodt created in a county right-of-way. Nesselrodt said the berm is needed to stop what he characterized as drunk drivers from running into this guest house. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A long-running dispute between neighbors on East Mescalero Road is now awaiting the decision of Chaves County commissioners, who visited the property Monday.

Tom Conlee, facing camera, discusses his concerns about the county right-of-way that he wants turned over to property owners. Commissioners, including from left, T. Calder Ezzell Jr., James Duffey and Jeff Bilberry, visited the site Monday. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

“We’ve had a tough 10 years,” Tom Conlee told commissioners.

For his part, neighbor Trey Nesselrodt claims Conlee is running a business on the property.

Commissioners looked over the East Mescalero site Monday as their first stop on their planned day-long journey to 10 roads in the county that are still subject to requests for the county to vacate them. The East Mescalero application involves a few property owners and has prompted a reaction from the City of Roswell.

Over the years, difficulties between Conlee and Nesselrodt have led to county actions and angry verbal exchanges, but the current issue is whether the county should vacate, or cease to own, a portion of the county road.

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Part of East Mescalero off of North Atkinson Avenue is paved and maintained by the county. But the county does not maintain the portion that is past the 1700 block. That portion, a right-of-way about 1,400 feet long and 40 feet wide covered mostly in grass, vegetation and dirt, runs down the middle of properties owned by three people, Conley, Nesselrodt and a third entity, Taylor Faust Construction Inc.

If the county vacates the right-of-way, portions of it would then belong to the property owners on either side, county Public Services Director Bill Williams told commissioners.

As Conlee explained to commissioners at their Thursday meeting, he asked for the East Mescalero right-of-way closure so that he can claim part of the road and use it for access to the back half of his 25-acre property.

Because his neighbors have put up fences or other obstacles in the right-of-way, Conlee said, that access is denied without going onto other people’s property.

Nesselrodt, who moved in about a year after Conlee, wants the road to remain as county property, partly so that he can keep the landscaped berm he created as a barrier to car traffic.

He said the berm is needed to keep “drunk drivers” from barreling onto his property where a guest house is located. In a letter to commissioners, he stated that three cars have run into the berm since he put it up seven years ago.

“If we are just going to close it and divide it in half,” he said, “I think we need to determine some safety issues I do have for the property I do have next to it, so I am opposed to vacating it.”

The other neighboring property owner, Taylor Faust Construction, has indicated its intentions of objecting to the closure, County Manager Stanton Riggs said.

City of Roswell Planning Manager Bill Morris said the city is also opposed to the vacation.

“We are here to respectfully object to the closing or abandonment of East Mescalero Road,” Morris said at the Thursday meeting. “We have properties … directly on the west of the BNSF right-of-way, and we have a main sewer line that runs through that area we need access to.”

He added that the city has considered putting in a pedestrian or bike trail in the area at some point in the future.

The use of the road is just one of the issues that has embroiled the neighbors in arguments over the years.

Another one is Nesselrodt’s allegations that Conlee operates his construction business on the property, which is zoned residential suburban. That zoning, according to a county official, means the property is meant only for residential, farming and grazing purposes.

Conlee told commissioners that he sometimes parks his equipment on the property and that employees come and go from the site or do agricultural work there, but that his construction business runs from an office in the city.

Conlee’s request for a permit to operate his construction business on the East Mescalero premises was denied in 2014 and portions of the case ended up in magistrate court, with Conlee prevailing.

On Monday, commissioners walked the area, asking questions of Morris, Conlee and Nesselrodt. But the commissioners said they will need to study surveys and maps and discuss the issue further before reaching a decision.

Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., a lawyer, said he thinks the disputes between neighbors could involve determining property lines.

“Somebody owns the land we are standing on,” said Ezzell, “and it is not the county. All we have is a right-of-way. … Somebody had to grant the right-of-way, or, if the county condemned it, they had to take it away from somebody.”

Commissioners are expected to vote on the road vacation applications during their May 21 meeting.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.