Homeowner goes to court with city over land dispute

No trespassing signs posted by Callie Meeks on land where Meeks and the City are disputing an easement. Photo from a Marfa council meeting packet

MARFA – A Marfa homeowner, Callie Meeks, has taken the City of Marfa to court after the city administration would not allow her to build a fence surrounding her property on the northeast side of town. According to emails obtained by The Big Bend Sentinel, the city told Meeks that if she were to build such a fence, it would cut off access to an alleyway that has been used by the public and the municipality for over 40 years.

The issue began in June of last year after Meeks tried to get a building permit to construct a fence around the perimeter of her property, which is a collection of six adjoining lots. The city denied her request, stating that there is a longstanding alleyway dividing her property that is used and maintained by city personnel.

In an email to Meeks before the lawsuit was filed, City Attorney Teresa Todd said, “Although not platted, this alleyway is visible on the ground, maintained by the City of Marfa, contains water and sewer lines, and has been used by the public since at least 1975.”

By building a fence that would enclose her property, Meeks would cut off the city’s access to the alleyway.

Shortly after being denied a building permit, Meeks planted “No Trespassing” signs in the middle of the alleyway. According to the emails between Todd and Meeks, the city began receiving complaints about the signs, which “block the Republic trash trucks from being able to empty the garbage dumpsters.”

Then, with the approval of the city council, city staff took down the signs around September 25 of last year. The amended complaint –– which was filed in late March –– reads, “The [city] unlawfully entered upon the Property and used city equipment, city employees and expended public funds to come upon the Property to remove the No Trespassing signs erected by [Meeks].”

The issue boils down to whether the city has a legal right to use the alleyway through an easement, which allows the city to use Meeks’ property while not owning the land.

The city does not have the legal paperwork proving that this alleyway is an easement, however. According to the complaint, Meeks had the Big Bend Title company run a report to see if there were any official easements on her property.

“The report states that a search of the Property from 1911 forward found no easements filed of record in the offices of the county clerk of Presidio County, Texas,” the complaint reads.

In an email to Meeks, City Attorney Todd said that the city has a “prescriptive easement of this alley as a result of continuous use over the past 40+ years.” In other words, by maintaining it for close to half a century, the city has an unofficial easement over this alley. Todd wrote, “You knew about this alley when you purchased your property, and your deed specifies that you purchased your property subject to unrecorded easements and rights-of-way.”

In the city meeting where the council passed a motion to take down the “No Trespassing” signs, the council heard from three of Meeks’ neighbors. All of them said they acknowledged the alleyway as an easement. In fact, one resident –– Mary Williams –– said that the city had her sign an easement agreement in 1975 when she was first considering building her home in the neighborhood. “It’s been an easement, it’s been an alley since we built our house in 1975,” Williams said. “It’s really been very upsetting to all of us up on the hill.”

In that meeting, City Attorney Todd said that the signed easements Williams was referring to most likely burned in the city hall fire in the nineties. “They weren’t filed of record with the clerk’s office. So I think that’s what happened here. I think the city kept those on file and they burned in 1995,” Todd said.

Meeks’ attorney, Albert Valadez, said in the amended petition that in order for the city to have a prescriptive easement over the alleyway it must show it used the property, “in a manner which is open, notorious, continuous, exclusive and adverse for the requisite period of time.” However, both Meeks and the city use the alleyway so the city cannot claim to have exclusive rights over the alleyway, Valadez argues. To settle the dispute, Valadez and Meeks –– both of whom did not respond to requests for comment –– want the city to revoke any easements it claims to have over her property.

Todd said that the city and Meeks are in negotiations and awaiting the results of a survey of the potential easement. Messer, Fort and McDonald –– the law firm representing the city in this case –– did not respond to requests for comment.