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Fairfield Lake State Park closes again as land sale negotiations fail

Fairfield Lake State Park closes again as land sale negotiations fail” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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For the second time this year, the state has closed Fairfield Lake State Park after it was unable to negotiate the purchase of the property from a developer.

After several attempts to save the 1,820-acre park, Texas Parks and Wildlife announced over the weekend that Shawn Todd, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Todd Interests, declined the state’s $25 million offer to give up the company’s contract for the 5,000-acre property that includes the park, located about 100 miles south of Dallas in Freestone County.

The park was closed to the public Sunday night. The agency says it will now explore using eminent domain and condemnation to seize the land, which the state had leased for decades before it was sold to Todd Interests earlier this year.

“Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners continue to pursue options for saving Fairfield Lake State Park, including through condemnation,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chair Arch “Beaver” Aplin III said in a press release. “But in the meantime, department staff must focus on decommissioning the property before our lease ends June 13.”

The agency’s commissioners have scheduled a June 10 meeting to discuss acquiring the park through condemnation.

Parks and Wildlife said its commissioners took “persistent and extraordinary steps” to negotiate with Todd Interests to buy the park.

Shawn Todd and his sons Patrick and Philip Todd, who own and manage Todd Interests, expressed “astonishment” and “surprise” that state officials are considering condemnation in a letter they sent to TPWD on Tuesday.

The state had numerous opportunities to acquire the property that includes the park, the letter says. “The State of Texas, however, has spent the last eight months working to derail our transaction and diminish our transactional rights,” it says.

The letter said the company has begun executing its development plan and investing millions of dollars in related contracts. Construction equipment arrived at the site Monday, the letter added. Shawn Todd has said the company plans to build a private golf course and luxury gated community on the property.

TPWD has begun to remove equipment and relocate staff members, according to an agency press release.

“We’re back to square one,” said Luke Metzger, the executive director of Environment Texas, a statewide environmental group that has advocated for saving the park. “It’s unfortunate [TPWD] has to go this route but they’re in a strong position to exercise their rights to save the park.”

Fairfield Lake State Park operated on leased land for decades until the park’s previous owner, energy company Vistra Corp., reached an agreement earlier this year to sell the park to Todd Interests for $110.5 million.

TPWD officials have said that after Vistra notified the state that it intended to sell the property — which surrounded a power plant that the company closed in 2018 — the agency initially wanted to buy only the park portion of the property, but Vistra didn’t want to sell it in parts.

The park temporarily closed in February after the sale was announced, but the state struck a deal with Todd Interests to let the park remain open temporarily while the state explored its options.

Since it reopened, the park has welcomed more than 6,250 visitors. On Monday, the park’s website included the closure notice and thanked visitors for their support through the years. “We truly enjoyed sharing this small piece of paradise with you,” it says.

Andrew Morriss, a Texas A&M law professor who specializes in eminent domain, said the state has the power to take back the property through condemnation because the land would serve a public purpose. He said parks, highways and schools are typical public benefits for which the government will seize private land.

“Texas is what is called a quick take state,” he said. “If the government wants your property and you don’t wanna sell it, too bad, they get it.”

“The argument now is gonna be about how much they have to pay for it,” he added.

Morriss said the next step is for the state to notify the developer that it will be taking the land and make an offer. Todd can agree or disagree with the amount of money he is offered. If both groups do not reach an agreement, the issue can end up in court.

TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz said he’s still holding on to hope that the park can be saved.

“We look forward to having the opportunity to welcome you again someday,” he said in a press release.

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