Texas Parks & Wildlife moves to condemn Fairfield Lake State Park to seize from developer

The state of Texas has filed to condemn the former Fairfield Lake State Park property, taking the next formal step in seizing the property from a private developer from Dallas.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Friday filed to condemn the 5,000-acre property in Freestone County.

The fate of the property has been a public saga for months now, after an energy company that formerly owned the land — and leased part of that land to the state — sold the tract to a developer for over $100 million. The developer, Dallas-based Todd Interests, made clear from the beginning that it would not continue the state’s lease on the 1,800-acre park. Instead, Todd Interests has plans to transform the former park land and the surrounding acreage into a high-end gated community.

After failing to obtain the property through other means, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission made a highly unusual move and voted unanimously to authorize the use of eminent domain to seize the property.

Both before and after that June vote, Todd Interests founder Shawn Todd decried the idea that the state could seize his recently purchased land. He’s blasted state officials for their vote, calling the move a display of the commission’s “arrogance” and pointing to Texas’ reputation as a pro-private property rights state.

Todd’s firm has also flouted the commission’s request that he pause construction, so as not to cause any permanent change to the property. But, at the end of July, a public relations firm working with Todd Interests sent out a video showing construction updates on the land. When asked for comment at the time, Todd noted that the ongoing construction was within his firm’s legal rights, as the firm was the legal owner of the property.

Shawn Todd, of Dallas-based developer Todd Interests, says his firm is moving forward with plans to construct a gated community on the former Fairfield Lake State Park property.
Shawn Todd, of Dallas-based developer Todd Interests, says his firm is moving forward with plans to construct a gated community on the former Fairfield Lake State Park property.

Throughout this summer, Todd has continued to lambaste the state for its “Gestapo-like tactics,” and has held numerous press briefings regarding the property. In addition, the Freestone County commissioners — who represent the residents of the area, but do not have a say in whether the state seizes the property — have also come out in opposition to the eminent domain action.

But the state, supported on its side by outdoors enthusiasts and residents who don’t want to see a public offering turned private, has continued its march toward eminent domain. As a precursor to formal legal action, the state sent voluntary purchase offers to Todd Interests. The development firm announced in mid-August, though, that it had rejected the state’s final offer.

At the time, Parks and Wildlife Department spokesperson Cory Chandler said in a statement that the department “remains hopeful the landowner will agree to a voluntary sale prior to TPWD initiating court proceedings.”

Now, though, the state has moved on to formal eminent domain proceedings.

“Fairfield Lake State Park rightfully belongs to the people of Texas who have expressed overwhelming support for saving the property for future generations of public use,” the department wrote in a Friday statement.

With formal proceedings initiated, Chandler said the Freestone County judge will have 30 days to select a special board of local landowners to hear the case and decide on the fair value of the land.

Todd has indicated that he believes the state will have to reimburse him for the costs he’s incurred at the property — which, on a radio appearance, he said were around $1 million per month — and for the opportunity cost should his firm not be able to build its high-end development. However, eminent domain experts have told the Star-Telegram that this isn’t accurate; Instead, the state is only responsible for paying fair market value for the land, as decided by the special board.

Those experts have also said that the situation, while politically contentious, is legally straightforward: The case, they said, is a classic example of eminent domain because there is a clear public benefit to seizing the land.

It’s unclear exactly how long the eminent domain process will take from here, or how long it may be until the park could reopen. However, once the valuation of the land is settled and the state pays that valuation, the state can then take immediate possession of the property.

Representatives of Todd Interests were not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.