AUSTIN (KXAN) — The developer who purchased the site of a now-former state park has rejected the state’s final offer to purchase the property.
Dallas-based Todd Interests became the owner of the Fairfield Lake State Park property, about 70 miles east of Waco, at the start of June. The previous owner, Vistra Energy, sold the 5,000-acre property, including the park, five years after closing its power plant by the lake.
Negotiations for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to purchase the property failed. TPWD had leased the land for the park from Vistra for 50 years. The new owner announced intentions to cancel the lease and turn the property into a private community with multi-million dollar homes and a golf course.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted June 10 to acquire the property from Todd Interests through eminent domain. As part of those proceedings, TPWD submitted an offer to the developer.
In a statement Tuesday, Shawn Todd, CEO of Todd Interests, announced he has rejected that offer, saying it was below what his company had initially paid for the property.
“Not only was the offer below what we paid for and have already put into the property, and hundreds of millions below fair market value, it was accompanied by an $85 million appraisal that we are told will be the offered amount in condemnation proceedings,” Todd said.
While Todd has not revealed the exact amount he purchased the property for, he previously told KXAN it was “just north” of $100 million. Vistra had initially listed the site for more than $110 million.
The developer said the property is worth a lot more than what he paid for, though. In June, he told KXAN his bank had appraised the value of the property’s water rights alone at $238 million.
In his statement, Todd said TPWD has hired an outside law firm to represent it in eminent domain proceedings. The law firm, Todd said, has made allegations that fish in the lake are potentially contaminated with toxic materials from the former coal-fired power plant, and that historical sites were recently discovered on the property.
“Sadly, these statements and actions are consistent and a part of the continued false narrative created by TPWD and its leadership designed to artificially drive down the value of our property,” Todd said.
In a statement provided to KXAN, TPWD said it is using “due diligence” in an attempt to purchase the property, including inspections, environmental assessments and an appraisal report.
“TPWD filed an application for a temporary injunction to gain access to the property to determine whether there are environmental concerns,” Cory Chandler, deputy communications director for TPWD, told KXAN.
Chandler said TPWD and its legal counsel “have not alleged there is any contamination in Fairfield Lake State Park,” other than instances already documented by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The temporary injunction, filed Aug. 7 in Freestone County, asks for a temporary restraining order to allow state crews onto the property for inspections, surveys and tests.
“Our only interest from the very beginning of this endeavor has been in preserving Fairfield Lake State Park and all it has to offer for the 30 million residents who call Texas home. We remain open to securing a deal that will save the state park and benefit all parties,” Chandler said. “Losing a cherished state park now would be a devastating outcome, which is why TPWD has gone to these lengths to save Fairfield Lake State Park.
Now the final offer has been rejected, the attorney general’s office can petition to condemn the land. If that happens, three special commissioners, appointed by a district court judge, would hear evidence and determine the current fair market value of the property. TPWD would then pay the amount and take possession of the property.
If either party objects to the special commissioners’ findings, the case would move to a civil trial.
Chandler told KXAN TPWD has not yet filed a petition for condemnation and “remains hopeful the landowner will agree to a voluntary sale prior to TPWD initiating court proceedings. However, TPWD is following all legally required steps to initiate condemnation.”
In the meantime, construction on the site continues. Video provided by Todd Interests in late July shows construction crews on the property are already making progress.
Plans for the site, called the ‘Freestone’ community included 400 lakefront homes and “amenities a family should expect from a world-class resort,” including a clubhouse, restaurant, resort pool and a “championship-level” golf course.