Fairfield Lake State Park closes as state considers eminent domain

The property’s new owner plans to build an upscale housing development.

By Michael MarksJune 7, 2023 1:22 pm, ,

Fairfield Lake State Park closed to the public on Monday night – perhaps for good. 

The park is about 90 miles east of Dallas, with a 2,200-acre lake and trails for hiking and biking. For years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department leased the parkland from Vistra Corp., an energy company. But Vistra sold the land to a Dallas real estate developer called Todd Interests, which has no plans to keep the park open to the public.

Since that announcement was made in February, Texas parks officials and the state Legislature have tried to figure out how to keep the property. Lana Ferguson, a breaking news reporter for the Dallas Morning News, spoke to the Texas Standard about TPWD’s attempts to keep the property.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s talk about what the state’s done so far to try to keep control of Fairfield Lake State Park. Were they in negotiations to try to buy it outright or something, or what were you hearing?

Lana Ferguson: Yeah, absolutely. So the state, especially recently, has been really trying to make some last-chance efforts to get this parkland back. And we learned yesterday that there was [an] offer made from state officials to Todd Interests for $25 million to kind of buy out Todd Interests’ contract with Vistra. Apparently, Todd Interests responded in good faith – that’s what they’ve told me. But they said that they never heard back from the state parks folks, so they decided to move forward with their contract.

And then again after that, on June 1st, the day that Todd Interests closed on their contract, state parks made one last effort and reached out to Vistra and offered them $95 million for the land to buy the contract. Obviously, that deal didn’t go through, since Todd Interests now outright owns the land.

Wow. Okay, so what does Todd Interests plan to do with the parkland? 

So they’ve actually just already released these big plans to make a luxury neighborhood, an exclusive gated community, that’s going to have multimillion dollar homes around the lake, a golf course, a country club. They’re not planning to have the state park stay in operation. It’d be pretty exclusive area.

I want to go back to what Todd Interests was saying about their negotiations with the state. Do I understand you correctly to say that Todd Interests came back with an offer, and it was less than what Texas Parks and Wildlife ultimately offered for this land – but that they didn’t hear back from Parks and Wildlife? Did I understand that correctly? 

That’s how I understand it as well. Of course, there’s two sides to the story, but what we’ve been told is that the parks reached out to Todd Interests, said, we’ll give you $25 million for the contract for the land. And Todd Interests has told me that they responded relatively quickly and in good faith, but didn’t hear back from the parks. And so after they heard the parks commissioners had a meeting and voted to allow the executive director to take all means necessary to buy the land, Todd Interests just said, okay, well, we’re moving on with our end and our plans since we didn’t hear back from you.

What is Parks and Wildlife saying about that? 

They have remained pretty tight-lipped besides what they’ve been releasing to the public. Of course, parks is saying, “we’re doing everything we can to save this park.” And that’s what they’ve been saying over and over again. So, I mean, recently was when they revealed that they made that $25 million offer, and they said it just didn’t work out.

So I understand the Parks and Wildlife board is going to be meeting on Saturday to talk about possibly regaining control of the parkland somehow, some way. Could they use eminent domain to retake the land, or is that an option? Or what options are available?

So that seems like they’re talking about condemning the land, which would be a step towards eminent domain, which is where the government can take that private land and use it for public use.

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