State park officials tried blocking the plan to turn Fairfield Lake State Park into a luxury gated community last week to no avail.
A news release from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) on May 25 announced that a commission had unanimously voted in favor of granting the executive director the authority to sign an agreement without further commission approval to facilitate the purchase of the park.
The park, named after the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake, was leased to the state by what is now Vistra Energy in 1971. Yet it was forced to close in late February when approximately 5,000 acres of land that included the park was sold to a developer, as a separate news release from TPWD explained.
“This is an unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans,” TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz had said upon announcing the land sale. “The demand for outdoor recreation exceeds supply in Texas, so losing even one state park is a set-back for all of us who enjoy publicly accessible lands.”
As The Dallas Express previously reported, Dallas-based Todd Interests purchased the property ideally located about 88 miles south of Dallas, intending to build the Freestone Club and Resort.
This gated community will boast 34 miles of shoreline, luxurious multimillion-dollar homes, a top-tier championship golf course, and a lavish selection of amenities and activities.
Yet opposition to the development project beyond TPWD appeared from the outset, including lawmakers like State Rep. Angelia Orr (R-Hill County). As such, negotiations surrounding Fairfield Lake State Park have been difficult over the past few months.
With TPWD now given more latitude to buy the land and preserve the park, it remains to be seen whether these efforts have all been in vain.
Todd Interests told The Dallas Morning News on May 25 that it was moving ahead with closing the sale with Vistra.
Shawn Todd of Todd Interests explained that while TPWD did submit an offer to purchase the land, there was no response to the developer’s counteroffer.
“We responded timely, almost immediately and in good faith to that offer, which was a proposal that would have been an incredible win for the state of Texas and at a significant sacrifice to our family,” Todd said to the DMN. “Since we submitted that offer, the state has not responded to us. To that end, we’re moving forward with our transaction.”
The terms of neither TPWD’s offer nor Todd’s response were disclosed.
When the land was first listed for sale by Vistra in 2021, the asking price was $110 million, too steep for TPWD.
As The Dallas Express reported, both TPWD and the Texas Historical Commission were given discretionary allocations of the money generated by the sporting goods sales tax implemented in 1993 until it was locked by a legislative change in 2019.
With more stable funding, several projects to improve existing parks and develop new ones emerged in the following years.
Notably, TPWD announced in early May that a total of six new parks would open over the next 12 to 15 years, as The Dallas Express recently covered. The possible loss of Fairfield Lake State Park might have been a wake-up call.
State Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) told the DMN that while lawmakers and state park officials are “all scratching our heads how we got here,” they haven’t given up on Fairfield Lake State Park just yet.
“There is a bipartisan love affair to save this state park,” Ashby said.
For instance, lawmakers are deliberating the creation of a trust fund with $1 billion to buy more land for future parks in light of TPWD’s centennial coming up.
Despite its fate hanging in the balance, Fairfield Lake State Park is currently open for day visits with no entrance fee from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.