Lawsuit seeks to open Taylor Ranch gate
Plaintiffs claim access is traditional; subdivision says road isn't public
By Matt Hildner, Pueblo Chieftan
SAN LUIS — The heirs to use-rights on the former Taylor Ranch filed a class-action lawsuit Friday in Costilla County District Court, seeking to open a road and gate that's blocked by a private subdivision.
The lawsuit, brought by 24 plaintiffs, seeks a declaration that the Torcido Creek Road is a public and county road and the declaration of easement rights to use the road and the gate.
"This lawsuit was brought to confirm the right of access through a traditional point of access, and hopefully, to bring final closure to this lengthy process," said Land Rights Council President Norman Maestas in a written statement.
After three decades of legal wrangling, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that descendants of the area's original settlers had the right to graze livestock and gather firewood on the 77,500-acre parcel now named Cielo Vista Ranch. It's known to locals as La Sierra.
The parcel was originally part of the Sangre de Cristo land grant used by the Mexican government in the mid-18th century to lure settlers north by granting them communal rights to the property.
While the district court continues the process of affirming which residents can be awarded access, Friday's complaint is strictly over whether they can use the Torcido gate, which sits near the southwestern edge of the ranch on Torcido Creek.
More than 600 people have been given keys to the ranch by the court.
The plaintiffs claim the owner of the ranch and the Mountain Lake Ranch Property Owners Association have blocked access with a barricade of boulders on the road leading to the gate.
There currently are eight other points of access on the ranch, which had no fences or gates before former owner and North Carolina timber man Jack Taylor bought the property in 1960 and fenced out locals, said Jerome DeHerrera, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.
Ranch owner Bobby Hill, who had yet to see the complaint, said the road leading to the gate is not public and goes through the Mountain Ranch Lake subdivision.
"They don't have access to the subdivision," he said. "The judge awarded them what appeared to be adequate access."
But attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the mountainous terrain of the ranch means the closure of the Torcido gate shuts off access to quality timber and grazing meadows that are inaccessible from other gates.
"When you shut off one traditional access point, you're making it very difficult for folks to get to that part of the ranch," DeHerrera said.
He emphasized that the state court's 2002 decision guaranteed access to the entire ranch.
The complaint names Hill, the Mountain Lake Ranch Homeowners Association, subdivision developer Daniel Datolla, individual property owners in the subdivision, lenders with mortgages on those properties and the Costilla County Commissioners.
The Plaintiffs in the case are being represented on a pro bono basis by a team of lawyers at the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which is a well-known and respected super regional law firm, with a substantial litigation practice. The team is headed by Lawrence W. Treece, a litigator and trial lawyer who has practiced in Denver for over forty years. Mr. Treece said that “the Brownstein litigation team is privileged and honored to assist the Plaintiffs and the Land Rights Council in their quest to ensure that the access rights granted by the Colorado Supreme Court are preserved and are fully implemented.”