In a new attempt to save Fairfield Lake State Park, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department filed a petition to condemn and seize the 5,000-acre property south of Dallas through eminent domain.
The petition was filed in Freestone County District Court Friday morning, after months of unsuccessful negotiations with Dallas-based developer Todd Interests, which plans to turn the former park into a high-end gated subdivision.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wrote in an email that this step was “necessary to pursue acquisition at fair market value to preserve Fairfield Lake State Park and Fairfield Lake for all Texans.”
A spokesperson for Todd Interests said Shawn Todd, the company’s CEO, was unavailable to comment. In a previous interview, Todd said his company purchased the land legally and he is not selling.
The department commissioners voted in June to allow the agency to condemn the property, but the agency held off doing so hoping that Todd Interests would agree to sell the land.
The department made two attempts, as required by Texas law, to buy back the park for $103 million, according to documents obtained by The Texas Tribune. Todd Interests denied both offers for the same amount.
The state Legislature appropriated $125 million earlier this year to the department for statewide park acquisitions.
A state appraiser concluded total compensation for the park was valued at $85 million, but the department said in the offer letter that they were willing to offer more than what was concluded in the appraisal report. Todd Interests bought the property for $103 million.
Since the developer’s acquisition, the company has begun construction by building roads at the former park and spending about $1 million a month on construction.
Now that the petition has been filed, the county’s district court judge will need to appoint a panel of local landowners tasked with setting a fair market value for the property. Those landowners will hold a hearing to take testimony on fair market value from witnesses.
If the state pays that amount for the land, it can take immediate possession of the former park. If either party appeals the valuation, then the court conducts a civil trial.
See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t quite understand the difference between the state’s appraisal of the land and what Todd Interests paid for it. Sure, they may have overpaid, but they clearly believe that the investment is worth it if they did. The state wound up offering their purchase price for the land, which at least wasn’t as insulting as offering the appraised price would have been, but even if Todd Interests hadn’t started with construction, there’s just no way that would have been an acceptable price. I don’t know how long this process will take – it could be years if the appeals process drags out, but then Todd Interests is also spending a ton on legal fees they may not get back – and I don’t know where the price will end up – it could be right around the $103 million the state offered – but I would say that the quickest resolution is likely to be making Todd Interests a bigger offer. Between the Governor’s discretionary fund and the upcoming (stupid) special session on vouchers, it would be easy enough to make up the difference from what was appropriated in the regular session. The alternate is to fight it out in court and see who cries “Uncle” first. Strap in, ’cause here we go.