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Condemning Fairfield Lake State Park would trample property rights, Dallas developer says

A picture of trees in Fairfield Lake State Park in the autumn, with multicolored leaves.
Texas Parks and Wildlife
Courtesy Photo
Fairfield Lake State Park is closed after being sold to a Dallas developer. Now, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is trying to reclaim the land using a process called condemnation.

Upadated June 7, 2023 at 11:53 a.m. to include a statement from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The Dallas development firm that owns Fairfield Lake State Park on Tuesday criticized an upcoming vote that could allow the state's parks department to condemn the land and take it over.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced this weekend it would hold a special meeting June 10 to acquire the 1,820-acre park southeast of Dallas through a process known as condemnation.

In a news release, TPWD said its commissioners took “persistent and extraordinary” steps to negotiate with Todd Interests, which owns the land.

But in a letter sent to TPWD Tuesday, Shawn, Patrick and Philip Todd with Todd Interests disputed those claims and criticized the agency’s approach.

“Is this how you fulfill Governor Abbott’s promise that ‘Texas is wide open for business?’” the letter said. “As a family-owned, Texas-based business and longtime supporters of our state’s pro-business policies, we sincerely hope not.”

The developers said they had no reason to believe the state wanted to acquire the land when they made an offer to purchase it from power-generating company Vistra Energy on April 21, 2022. They said TPWD failed to express any interest in buying the land — even when approached by the previous owner in 2020.

The state operated Fairfield Lake State Park on leased land for roughly 50 years until it was sold to Todd Interests for $110.5 million earlier this year. TPWD officials have said they offered to buy only the park portion of the property from previous owner Vistra Energy when the company announced its intent to sell. But Vistra said they didn’t want to sell the land in parcels.

In the letter, Todd Interests said it held “good-faith conversations” with TPWD Chairman and Bucc-ee’s co-founder Arch "Beaver" Aplin III beginning in September 2022.

The developers said it was clear Aplin wanted the sale to fall through, and when Todd Interests refused to walk away from the deal, he allegedly made verbal threats and attempted to thwart the sale through failed legislative actions.

In an emailed statement, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department called its steps to negotiate with Todd Industries, "persistent and extraordinary," citing its $25 million offer on a contract assignment for the 5,000-acre property the developer rejected last week.

The state closed Fairfield Park to the public earlier this week and the process of removing equipment and relocating staff members is underway.

"We have closed the gates on Fairfield Lake State Park for the last time," Aplin said in the email. "The next time we open them, we will keep them open."

On June 1, while the deal was in the process of closing, the developers said Aplin sent that offer to Vistra, which Todd Interests founder and CEO Shawn Todd said was lower than what his company paid to acquire it.

“TPWD declined an opportunity to purchase the property. Twice,” the firm’s letter said. “It then tried to interfere with the contractual rights of private parties through threats, intimidation and misstatements of facts.”

The letter goes on to imply that condemning the property would cost the state many times more than it would have to buy the land outright from the previous owner.

“A state once considered the vanguard of private property rights would now take from its citizens and diminish the rights of sellers, buyers and private-property owners of every order,” the letter said. “We now ask the TPWD Commission to respect our rights as we fulfill our duty to our financial partners and family.”

The special meeting of Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners to discuss condemnation of the park begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Rebekah Morr is KERA's All Things Considered newscaster and producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.