SANTA FE, N.M. — A small piece of land adjacent to where a church once stood in Mora County, considered by some to be a possible cemetery site, has been the object of litigation for months. Parties in the suit are now working on an agreement to split the disputed property in the tiny village of Guadalupita.
The legal fight has pitted the Catholic Church and a group of Guadalupita residents on one side against some members of a well-known northern New Mexico family on the other.
Quinn Scott Simons, attorney for four residents with land near the 0.3-acre tract, said that a settlement was reached, but details could change and a judge still has to sign off. A conference hearing is scheduled for April 11.
The dispute has been heated enough that a deputy asked a Journal reporter-photographer team to stay off the small plot of land during a December visit, in order to avoid any trespassing issues.
Last summer, Guadalupita residents Jacob and his son Jacob Jude Regensberg sued the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Mora Board of County Commissioners and several residents who claim ownership of the parcel near where the historic village’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Church stood from 1861 until the 1960s.
The residents involved in the case fought the Regensberg’s claim in part because they say the “sacred” spot, described as a community space, could be the site of unmarked graves.
In December, Jacob Regensberg told the Journal a 2013 land survey proved the land was part of his property. He maintained that the archdiocese’s deed to the land, dating from the 19th century, wasn’t accompanied with a survey and that there is no proof of any burials in the disputed area.
An unofficial settlement agreement from January, which was obtained by the Journal, says that the archdiocese will issue a “quiet claim deed” to the Regensbergs for half of the contested area.
“The archdiocese just didn’t want to spend any more money on legal fees” said Clarence Garcia, a Guadalupita resident who sided with the church in the court proceedings on behalf of his cousin Benjamin Martinez.
Martinez lives in Colorado but had a claim to a small piece of land near the land in dispute. Garcia said legal costs were also rising for the residents.
Tom Macken, the archdiocese’s chancellor, property manager and attorney, did not return messages seeking comment.
Jude Regensberg declined to comment on specifics of the agreement, but he said he did not want to settle and wished to tell his side of the story in court. He said he agreed to settle out of respect for his father. “He wanted this to go away,” he said.
Garcia said the possibility of unmarked burial sites didn’t have much impact on the mediation. He said the archdiocese told him about archival documents listing about 40 people buried in the contested area, adding that residents hope to research those names and contact potential descendants.
An idea to use ground-penetrating radar to look for graves is not being pursued because of costs and complication from the litigation and the fact that Guadalupita is part of a large rural historic district, Garcia said.
Mora County Commission Chair Paula Garcia said of the agreement that she hopes that the small tract remains “open and accessible” if there are indeed gravesites there.
The land includes part of a dirt road that leads to the homes of some of the nearby residents involved in the court case. The draft agreement states the Regensbergs will grant easement to those owners and to the archdiocese, and the Regensbergs might install cattle guards so it remains “open and unrestricted.”