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County keeps control of right-of-way; Dispute over Mescalero Road between neighbors brought issue to commissioners

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Chaves County Commissioners Jeff Bilberry, James Duffey and Will Cavin visit the East Mescalero Road right-of-way April 23 ahead of their Monday vote regarding a request for the county to vacate ownership. The application concerning this site was disputed by neighbors and the city of Roswell. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A county road closure request that arose out of a lengthy disagreement between neighbors has ended with three Chaves County elected officials voting to keep the road under county control.

“We need to make sure that we continue to keep that right-of-way,” said Commissioner Will Cavin in his motion.

Members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners also determined that any structures, barriers or privately erected road signs in the 1,400 feet of road past the 1700 block of East Mescalero Road must be removed.

Tom Conlee, who requested the closure, or vacation, expressed some disappointment with the decision, which was agreed on by Commissioner Jeff Bilberry and Commission Chair Robert Corn. Commissioners James Duffey and T. Calder Ezzell Jr. abstained from the vote, citing potential conflicts of interest.

“If ever there was a good case for abandonment, this would have been it,” said Conlee.

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A local construction company operator, Conlee told commissioners that he was requesting the closure because, over the years, his neighbors erected fences, gates and a berm in that portion of the road, what is basically a non-maintained right-of-way filled with grass, weeds and other vegetation, as well as the man-made structures.

As a result of the barriers, Conlee said, he cannot access the back half of his 25-acre property via the right-of-way but instead has to get permission to cross private property.

Conlee did agree with the commission’s decision to require Trey Nesselrodt and the other neighboring property owner, Taylor Faust Construction Inc., to remove the obstacles in the right-of-way.

“That’s exactly right,” said Conlee. “That’s the right decision because it is not their property.”

Nesselrodt did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

But, at previous meetings and in emails, Nesselrodt told commissioners that he created the berm and planted it with trees seven years ago because “drunk drivers” would often run off of Mescalero Road at night onto the right-of-way and come very close to running into his guest house. At least three vehicles have struck the berm since it was created, he informed the commission.

The road matter is not the only dispute between Nesselrodt and Conlee, who have sometimes engaged in angry arguments. Nesselrodt previously complained that Conlee ran his construction business from the Mescalero Road property, zoned residential suburban, causing excessive noise and traffic. Conlee denied that he did more than park some equipment on the land, and his request for a special permit to allow business activities on the property was denied.

The city of Roswell also asked the county not to vacate the Mescalero right-of-way. Planning and Zoning Manager Bill Morris told commissioners that the city owns property and has a main sewer line to the east of the right-of-way and it wants to ensure that it continues to have access. He also has said that the city is considering developing the acreage.

The Mescalero Road application was the most controversial of this year’s road decisions, which often can be contentious matters.

This year, county officials considered a total of 16 road vacation requests, seven filed by private property owners and nine filed by the county’s Road Department. A group of appointed citizens, called freeholders, did initial reviews of the applications and inspections of roads. They voted unanimously to approve four closure requests, which commissioners approved.

The county then withdrew two of the applications it filed, leaving 10 requests for commissioners to decide. After a hearing to consider comments from the public and April 23 visits to all 10 roads, commissioners voted Monday to approve all the road closure requests except the one involving Mescalero Road.

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