Prohibited by a judge more than 15 years ago, a plan has re-surfaced to extend Angel Road west into Rio Rancho, perhaps connecting to Highway 28. Amid strong pressure in 2004-05, the Village Council attempted to prevent a roadway easement from the Corrales border into a planned 80-acre commercial and residential development in Rio Rancho. Now apparently that project is back.
On January 27, Corrales Comment contacted the State Highway Department’s District 3 office to ask whether planners there are considering the extension of Angel Road in their current project to widen and upgrade Highway 528. Spokesperson Kimberly Gallegos replied January 28 that District Three Engineer Justin Gibson is aware the developer “is exploring that option.” At their March 25, 2004 meeting Village Council members directed Village Attorney John Appel and Village Administrator Harry Staven to insist that Angel Road and Camino de la Tierra be dead-ended at the Rio Rancho boundary.
A definitive statement to that effect had been elusive for more than six months. Finally the council clarified that the Angel Road easement out to Highway 528 would be maintained as an emergency evacuation route with access through a “crash gate” or other barrier.
Councillors also made it clear they wanted Village Attorney John Appel to negotiate the closure for the Village, rather than then-Planning and Zoning Administrator Taudy Smith, who had been designated to interact with parties in a lawsuit aimed at resolving the status of Angel Road and the “dog-leg” connection between it and Camino de la Tierra.
The land development firm Curb, Inc. had wanted to subdivide about 80 acres between Corrales’ village limits and Highway 528. The firm had a proposal before the Rio Rancho planning and zoning department for more than a year. It was told the project could not proceed until the issues involving the long-controversial Angel Road easement had been resolved.
In 2004, Curb Inc.’s attorney filed a district court law suit naming the Village of Corrales and more than a hundred homeowners along Camino de la Tierra and Angel Road who were presumed to have a legal interest in the Angel Road easement.
(See Corrales Comment Vol.XXIV No.10 July 9, 2005 “Angel Road May Dead-end Soon.”)
After months of discussions, it had seemed clear that most of the homeowners along Camino de la Tierra and Angel Road wanted the easement vacated completely. The argument heard most often was that they didn’t want Angel Road to become “another Meadowlark Lane.”
But Village officials were not totally convinced that it was in Corrales’ best interests to completely give up that access out to Highway 528. That position was underlined the previous summer when bosque wildfires raging south of Corrales heightened awareness for the need for emergency evacuation routes.
The long-running dispute over the Angel Road easement to Highway 528 dates back more than 40 years to the days when most of the west side of Corrales was outside the Village limits and before Loma Larga was established as a public right-of-way.
Back then, people who wanted to subdivide land in Corrales west of the Main Canal sometimes felt they had to find legal access to their tract through Rio Rancho. The pre-Loma Larga ditch bank road was not legal access for subdivision purposes. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which owned the ditch bank, wanted to keep traffic off and was disinclined to allow its use for subdivision access.
One of those early developers got his legal access for lots along what is now Angel Road through an easement out to Highway 528 in Rio Rancho. That easement, called John Black Road, was ruled to be a public road by a judge in the early 1980s.
When developer George Lambert wanted to subdivide the Seventh Day Adventists’ tract west of the Main Canal behind Sandia View Academy, he used that easement as his legal access and acquired another section of easement northward just outside the Corrales municipal limits leading to the westerly end of what is now Camino de la Tierra.
That connection out to Highway 528 along John Black (Angel) Road and the north-south dog-leg to Camino de la Tierra became the legal access for Lambert’s subdivision. Future homeowners in La Tierra Subdivision became beneficiaries of the easement.
But disputes over that easement never really ceased.
Over the years, disputes continued to arise. In the late 1980s, two developers, Lambert and rival Richard Norton, almost came to blows over who got to use part of it.
Norton attempted to develop a few acres using the dog-leg portion of the easement, against Lambert’s wishes, and the battle between the two developers escalated.
At one point, Norton bladed in a road from the dog-leg to his parcels and then Lambert called in a back hoe to dig a deep trench across Norton’s would-be access road.
Back then, some Village officials, notably former Village Administrator Chris Allen and former P&Z Administrator Taudy Smith, argued that the community at-large, not just residents of Angel Road and Camino de la Tierra, had a stake in retaining the easement out to 528, if only as an emergency evacuation route.
But most Corrales residents with an interest in the easement recorded in their deeds said they wanted it vacated, although some wanted it retained for easier access out to Rio Rancho for medical and retail services there.
Although it also owns property along Camino de la Tierra and Angel Road, the Village was basically caught in the middle.
While generally agreed that the Village should support what the majority of affected homeowners desire, some Village officials expressed a “public welfare” motive for retaining at least some access out to Highway 528, if only through a break-away barrier, in case of emergencies.