Update for August 14, 2014
East county road controversy settled
By Lewis H. Mathews
A contentious issue of property access rights off of Farm to Market Road 471 South, outside of La Coste, was finally resolved in the Medina County Commissioners Court meeting held Monday.
The long running dispute stemmed from the unclear disposition of a small section of the old Castroville-La Coste Road that is still owned by Medina County. The old road had been closed after the construction of FM 471. Then in October 1978, the southern portion of the section in question was deeded to the adjoining property. However, the northern portion that ties into FM 471 remained the property of Medina County. This remanent of the old closed road was used to freely access adjoining private properties until a gate was built across the entrance to this small remainder of a road 11 years ago by one of the owners, Juan Gonzales, limiting access to those supplied with copies of the key.
This issue was first addressed by the court at its July 14 meeting, but one of the property owners, the Santleben family, missed their opportunity to speak. Therefore, it was included again on this week’s agenda and became the first order of business after the court reconvened at 10 a.m.
Phyllis Santleben was the first concerned property owner to address the court, and she began by saying, “I’d like to apologize for the misunderstanding, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak now. And we’d also like to thank (Pct. 2 Commissioner Larry) Sittre for working with us to try to get this finally resolved.”
Santleben then proceeded to present her family’s objections to the long standing status quo. She stated that historically it was her great- great-grandfather that gave right of way to the county to make the road to go across the river to La Coste. After the new bridge and road were opened, she said that nothing in the county records from that time remains addressing the status of the old road. She added, “There is nothing that says that the road was ever abandoned, so we really had no way to understand the disposition of the (old) road after the new road was built.”
Santleben shared that the family had used the road continuously to access their land that they cultivated and also the river bottom. “In 1978, unknown to us, Judge (Jerome) Decker gave my aunt a portion of the road. We looked into the court records and could not find anything attesting to the reasons or who agreed,” she said.
Santleben continued to explain that later, when her cousins, who also owned an adjacent property, subdivided and sold their land, the new owner of the lot closest to the entrance “erected a fence over this county road making it a private road.” She said they raised the issue with previous Commissioner Beverly Keller, who told her she was unable to do anything because it wasn’t listed anywhere and suggested she contact the sheriff. “We didn’t want to do that,” Santleben added.
Santleben claimed that they lost the ability to cultivate several acres of land because they had to build a road across their property to have an alternate route to access this field and to reach the river bottom. She requested that the fence be taken down and that the original access to their property be given back.
Terry Monday was the next property owner to address the court. He also had researched the historical matter and said, “In 1978, in order to widen FM 471 South, Medina County took a slice of land off the west front of the property we now own and deeded an equal amount of land to then-owner as compensation for the taking.”
He went on to say that ownership of the northern section of the abandoned roadway “clearly was retained in Medina County to allow the adjoining owners their long established and continued access to their land.”
Monday then urged the court to retain ownership of the land in question, to require the immediate removal of the fence, and to grant a permanent and irreversible easement.
Medina County Judge James E. Barden then asked, “You say to dedicate it as an irreversible permanent easement. Why wouldn’t we just dedicate it as a county road?”
Monday replied, “Then you would have to maintain it. I don’t think you want to maintain it.”
Pct. 2 Commissioner Larry Sittre immediately interjected jokingly, “It’s the best road I’ve got in my precinct.”
Judge Barden continued, “The best solution to this—and I still want to hear from Mr. Gonzales if he wishes to speak—is basically to open this back up and maintain it as a county road.”
Monday responded, “Your way is even better.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Richard Saathoff then added, “Putting a gate across our property, that, in my opinion, should not be allowed. Unfortunately, in this case, somebody did allow it, and now, we have to get it down.”
Judge Barden then opened the floor to the third property owner, Juan Gonzales, who spoke next. He said that when he bought the property people were using the road to go down to the river, and that he was told that it was now a private road, and that the best way to stop people from using it was to put up a gate. “So I got a double gate. We gave the Santlebens a key, and now Mr. Monday has a key. They have keys. I didn’t know it was a county road, until now.”
Gonzales continued by saying that his neighbors could open the gates and get in easily with any kind of farm equipment because the posts are twenty feet apart.
Judge Barden responded, “I can understand why you don’t want people driving down there to gain access (to the river.) But I think that if the gate is put down there further on where there is private property, then that probably stops that.
“So then the county is going to take over the road and maintain it, and fill all the potholes?” Gonzales asked.
“I’ll get it on the mapping system as soon as I can. It might take six weeks,” replied Sittre. “I know this has caused a lot of hard feelings between a lot of people for too long, and I hope this solves it. And I thank all of the families for showing up here today.”
When asked how long he needed to take the fence down, Gonzales replied, “I’ll take it down this afternoon.”
And with that, a motion instructing that the gate and fence be removed within ten days quickly carried, and Barden said, “I’m glad to see that we made a little progress today. And I thank you all for putting up with the process.”
The Gonzales family removed the fence, gates, and posts on the very same day.
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