Texas has been operating a state park on land leased for free for 50 years. The owner made a deal to sell the land to a luxury home developer. The 5,000-acre parcel of land was purchased for $110.5 million by Todd developers.
After months of stalled legislative efforts and failed negotiations to secure the park, the state opted to seize the land from Todd Interests, a Dallas-based developer, who purchased the property in February for $110.5 million. Commissioners were not eager to use the power of eminent domain to condemn the property, but the agency ultimately decided this instance was an exceptional case of public interest.
“I think we have a clear duty to act for the greater good for all Texans. While we have the power of eminent domain, that power should be used sparingly and reluctantly. In fact, it’s been nearly four decades since we’ve last used it,” said Jeffery Hildebrand, a Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioner, just before the commission voted to condemn the property.
Because the property serves a public purpose as a park, eminent domain experts say Texas can seize the private land, even if the developer doesn’t want to sell.
Next, the state will notify Todd of the condemnation decision and make an offer for the property. The state and the developer will negotiate over how much Texas will pay for the almost 5,000 acres. If they do not reach an agreement, the issue can end up in court.
During Saturday’s public meeting, residents of Freestone County, environmental advocates and lawmakers testified in favor of condemnation to save a critical public asset for future Texans. Texas State Parks Division Director Rodney Franklin noted that 80% of the public comments the agency received ahead of the decision were in support of using eminent domain to save the park.
The state had leased the park at no charge from Vistra Corp. since the 1970’s. When the energy company closed a coal power plant on the property, they looked to sell the land. The state hoped to just buy the 1,820-acres of Fairfield Lake State Park, but Vistra didn’t want to sell piecemeal. According to the energy company, the state did not offer to buy the entire property.
“The State of Texas, however, has spent the last eight months working to derail our transaction and diminish our transactional rights,” Todd said in a June letter to the Parks and Wildlife Commission.
The letter said the company has begun executing its development plan and investing millions of dollars in related contracts.
The company should retain a condemnation attorney who is familiar with valuing land in the process of development.