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Texas Department of Transportation (“TxDOT”) officials said right-of-way acquisitions for its Loop 9 Southeast project in Dallas would not begin for another year, but one prominent developing company sold its property for a handsome cost to TxDOT while others in its position have been left in limbo.

Bill Mote, a landowner in the area who has not yet received an offer for his property, reported to the Dallas Morning News that he has not been able to build on his land or sell it for eight years now because of TxDOT’s interest in the area. The landowner, also a commercial real estate owner, found a state land sale document for a deal in 2010 between TxDOT and Ross Perot Jr.’s firm, Hillwood Development Company.

Hillwood received $4.4 million for 34 acres of land in the sale that took place five years before TxDOT stated it would begin right-of-way purchases. This discrepancy raised a few eyebrows among landowners like Mote, especially considering the development firm’s long-term relationship with TxDOT and that this was the only such sale for this project.

This sale was also unique in that it is one of the few open options contracts offered by TxDOT that guarantees the landowner half of the agreed price regardless of whether the project moves forward. The other half will be paid later if the landowner agrees to stop development, the Dallas Morning News reported on Feb. 16th.

TxDOT and Hillwood officials both stated that the land owned by the firm was in a known key area for the highway expansion project and that stopping development by Perot Jr.’s company helped save TxDOT money from having to purchase the land from future homeowners in the subdivision. While this deal may seem to make sense, it still offers Hillwood an unfair advantage not extended to others in the area.

Mote and other landowners like him who may not have the luxury of a cordial and long-term relationship with TxDOT deserve the same treatment as Hillwood, and this situation, brought to light by Watchdog, shows the depth of discretion allowed by eminent-domain laws in Texas. Landowners must protect their rights in condemnation, but TxDOT also has the responsibility of treating each property owner with the respect it gives to high-profile landowners.

Coauthored by Justin Hodge and Ayla Syed.