TX Parks Commission Updates Eminent Domain Rules

Eminent Domain
Texas Parks and Wildlife truck | Image by Moab Republic

A new policy adopted on Thursday by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission will limit future use of eminent domain.

The updated policy will only allow eminent domain to be used in “exceptional and unusual circumstances,” according to a press release from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Such exceptional and unusual circumstances were defined by the agency as situations where “property was previously dedicated to public use as a park or similar outdoor recreation area and the property owner rejects an offer(s) to voluntarily convey the property.”

The new policy also states that the commission cannot “exercise the power of eminent domain to take residences, farms, or ranches.”

“Given its significant potential impact on private landowners, our commissioners chose to limit TPWD’s use of eminent domain to ensure it will be used exceedingly sparingly and only under specified circumstances,” said Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Commissioner Jeff Hildebrand to replace Aplin as chair the same day the new policy was adopted. Aplin was recently facing calls for his resignation by Dallas-based development firm Todd Interests after the commission authorized TPWD to petition for the condemnation of Fairfield Lake State Park so the state could seize it.

Hildebrand’s appointment comes into effect on August 31.

Todd Interests had purchased the 5,000-acre property from Vistra Corp., which had been leasing the land to TPWD for $1 per year. Following the sale, TPWD made multiple offers to Todd Interests to purchase the land, but the firm said the offers were below the value expended by the firm, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The commission’s authorization still stands despite the policy change.

Multiple other factors will be considered when evaluating which properties qualify for eminent domain, according to the new policy, “including the amount of public investment in the property; the level of public support for the acquisition; the number of visitors served by the property while dedicated to public use; and the natural and cultural resources of the property.”

James Murphy, an attorney for TPWD, said that public comments submitted about the policy were mostly supportive. Some 62% were in favor of the change, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Commissioner Jeff Hildebrand lauded the policy change, saying it is rare to see a state agency choosing to “reduce its ability to use eminent domain or limit its ability to execute its duty.”

“I couldn’t be more pleased that we’re pulling back. This should signal to people that we rarely use eminent domain. Fairfield is a very rare event,” he said, per the DMN.

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