The developer who purchased a 5,025-acre property in Freestone County, which also happens to contain a state park, is calling out Texas legislators for the recent condemnation talks that could allow the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to take back control of the hotly contested land.
Dallas-based land development company Todd Interests responded to TPWD’s recent announcement that commissioners are considering acquiring the newly purchased land through condemnation.
Texas-based energy company, Vistra, put the entire acreage on the market several years ago for $110.5 million before private Dallas-based firm Todd Interests purchased it. The developer plans to turn the property into a multimillion-dollar private home community with a private golf course.
“We cannot begin to express our astonishment that officials appointed by Governor Abbott and approved by Lt. Governor Patrick and the Texas Senate are considering the condemnation of private property that TPWD had numerous opportunities to acquire,” Todd Interest partners Patrick, Shawn and Philip Todd said in a statement sent directly to KSAT.
The managing partners also said in their statement that the power company who sold the land to Todd Interests initially asked TPWD officials if they wanted to purchase the lake and surrounding land but “TPWD said it had no interest acquiring all of the land or the lake and did not have the funds to purchase the land TPWD had leased.”
KSAT reached out to TPWD officials who countered this accusation saying “Texas Parks and Wildlife Department absolutely attempted, on many occasions, to purchase Fairfield Lake State Park, and once the property went under contract with Todd Interests, the department and its commission took persistent and extraordinary steps to negotiate an outcome that would benefit Todd Interests while preserving a public asset that has served millions of visitors through half a century.”
“These extraordinary steps included offering a $25 million contract assignment for Todd Interests to give us the opportunity to purchase the park from Vistra Corp,” Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III said in a statement to KSAT.
Todd Interest’s managing partners said they didn’t receive a written proposal to purchase the land until May 12, 2023 — 8 months after initially talking to Aplin.
In the statement, Todd Interests said the property was purchased on June 1 and they had officially taken the title for the land and construction equipment was already onsite.
The statement also claims that “members of the Texas House and the Texas Senate have repeatedly demonstrated their opposition to the use of condemnation to acquire Fairfield Lake. Neither House Bill 2332 nor Senate Bill 1656 made it out of committee, let alone got a floor vote.”
It’s a direct contradiction to TPWD’s response, which says the following:
“We have heard from Texans and state leaders who have told us unequivocally that they want to keep Fairfield Lake State Park open for public recreation and enjoyment, not gate it off for exclusive use. TPWD’s mission compels us to try to save not only the park, but one of our state’s finest fisheries. At 10:30 a.m. June 10, commissioners will meet to consider our options for doing so.”
KSAT will continue to follow the future of Fairfield Lake State Park, which closed again Sunday evening.
“We have closed the gates on Fairfield Lake State Park for the last time,” Aplin told KSAT. “The next time we open them, we will keep them open.”
The full statement from Todd Interests regarding Fairfield Lake State Park is embedded below. It was sent to KSAT via email on Tuesday.
The back-and-forth openings and closures for Fairfield Lake State Park continue as the park closed to the public once again on June 4 — and this time it might be for good.
Fairfield Lake State Park closed to the public on Sunday evening after temporarily reopening in March.
The park was originally closed on Feb. 28 before reopening two weeks later as Texas legislators tried to prevent land developer Todd Interests from turning the privately-owned property from being turned into a multimillion-dollar private home community with a private golf course.
Fairfield Lake State Park is a 1,460-acre park within a 5,025-acre property in Freestone County. Texas-based energy company, Vistra, put the entire acreage on the market several years ago for $110.5 million before it was purchased by Todd Interests.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its commissioners took persistent and extraordinary steps to negotiate with Todd Interests, which purchased the property from Vistra Corp, according to a press release.
TPWD officials said a $25 million offer was made to Todd Interests to relinquish their contract for the land the park sits on, which would have allowed TPWD to purchase the park from Vistra. Todd Interests rejected that offer.
“Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners continue to pursue options for saving Fairfield Lake State Park, including through condemnation,” said Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. “But in the meantime, department staff must focus on decommissioning the property before our lease ends June 13.”
The land the park sits on was first leased to the state by the utility company in the early 1970s. TPWD leased the land for decades before it was put up for sale.
Park staff will start removing equipment and relocating staff members starting Monday, June 5.
According to the press release, TPWD commissioners will hold a special meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 10 where officials will consider acquiring the 5,000-acre property in Freestone County, which includes Fairfield Lake and Fairfield Lake State Park, through condemnation.
Attorney Judon Fambrough with the Texas A&M Real Estate Center published an article in July 2015 that “explains where the power to condemn comes from, which entities have this power, what the condemnation procedure is in Texas and how property rights are best protected.”
These are the four restraints for condemnation as explained by Fambrough. The text comes directly from his article:
- “Public Use - Public use is difficult to define. No hard and fast rule has been drafted for determining public use in every instance. Instead, each case must be decided on its own merits and in light of the surrounding circumstances.
- “Public Necessity - Public necessity pertains to the amount of land that can be condemned. The legislature may not authorize, and the condemnor may not legally condemn, more property than is reasonably required to serve the public use.
- “Compensation - Although the Texas Constitution speaks in terms of “adequate compensation,” the Texas statutes refer to compensated damages in terms of “market value.” Market value has been further defined in case law as “the price the property will bring when offered for sale by the one who desires to sell, but is not obligated to sell, and is bought by one who desires to buy, but is under no necessity of buying.” The issue of market value is not necessarily determined by current usage. Texas law permits the consideration of the highest and best use to which the land can reasonably be adapted in ascertaining market value.
- “Due Process - Due process is a constitutional directive levied against each state. Basically, the condemnee must be provided a reasonable notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard and to present a claim or defense.”
Full explanations and a deeper dive into each legal restraint of condemnation can be read in Fambrough’s “Understanding the Condemnation Process in Texas.”
Fambrough further explains that landowners have alternatives when they are confronted with condemnation, including monetary compensation among other things like easement agreements.
Fairfield Lake State Park History
“We want to thank the more than 6,250 people who have supported Fairfield Lake State Park since it reopened,” said TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz, “and the millions who made memories there in the nearly 50 years before that. We look forward to having the opportunity to welcome you again someday.”
Fairfield Lake State Park is named after the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake, which sits in the middle of the park.
The state first leased the park from Texas Utilities in 1971-1972 and opened it in 1976.
The park sees an average of 80,000 visitors a year and is known for activities such as horseback riding, family reunions, paddling, fishing, camping and hiking.
“Visitation has increased significantly in the last four years – up from 58,991 in 2019. TPWD has committed $70 million in infrastructure, including buildings, barns, residences, roads, utilities and a boat ramp,” TPWD officials said.
The lake is known for some of the biggest bass in Texas and has produced 69 lunkers for the TPWD’s Toyota Sharelunker Program since 2020, making it one of the most productive fisheries maintained by TPWD.
Todd Interests statement
Todd Interests sent a statement to KSAT on Tuesday regarding the possible future acquisition of the property. The statement can be read in the embed below: