Mary Jane Hurt is a rare holdout in the booming Cane Ridge area, disinclined to sell her 156-arce farm while adjacent properties have already been annexed and either turned into cookie-cutter subdivisions or sold to individual property owners in three- or five-acre chunks.
Hurt has lived there all of her life. Her father lived there all of his life. All told, Hurt’s kin have called the same property off Cane Ridge Road home since the Reconstruction era. She doesn’t detest the growth sandwiching her estate; in fact, she’s pleased to have plenty of new friends. But instead of cashing in on the rise of the area, Hurt prefers being one of the last vestiges of the old Cane Ridge.
“We’ve had lots of people come by and want to buy it, but we’ve chosen to live there as we are,” Hurt said. “We enjoy the lifestyle that we have.”
Hurt, who raises Angus cattle and oversees a vibrant garden, has enjoyed a birds-eye view of Antioch’s rapid growth over the past decade, a pattern that’s no secret to most Davidson County residents, but a story unequivocally reaffirmed in March with the release of 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Southeast Davidson County — generically dubbed Antioch by most, though longtime Nashvillians often dispute the now-widened boundaries — has exploded, accounting for the bulk of Nashville’s 10 percent population hike since 2000. Of the county’s 56,790 population increase, 30,037 comes from just three Metro Council districts that stretch from the Lenox Village area at the Williamson County border, through Hickory Hollow Mall and east toward Percy Priest Lake. (Expand the definition of Antioch, and the figure rises dramatically) In all, the population of this far southeastern Davidson County area, using these three council districts as a measuring stick, has ballooned by 62 percent.
“The area not long ago was all dairy farms and that type of thing,” Hurt said of her location near Interstate-24. “Now, all the land has been sold for subdivisions and what-not. Ours is the only working farm in the area.”
The influx of subdivisions near Hurt’s residence and other places in the Antioch area has filled a void in Nashville, offering modest-priced new homes with front yards in a county that’s become a more expensive place to reside. Supplying that demand helps explain the population boom in the Antioch area, characterized by the influx of a diverse cross-section of white, black, Hispanic and Muslim Nashvillians.
“A big attraction was that [southeast Davidson County] offered the types of housing people were looking for at prices that fit within their budget,” said Loretta Owens, director of the Nashville-based nonprofit The Housing Fund, adding that houses in Antioch are frequently sold for less than $150,000, which has appealed to young families. “They can get a pretty nice three-bedroom, two-bath house that’s fairly close to shopping. That’s where they can find that.”
Rick Bernhardt, executive director of the Metro Planning Department, said subdivisions and the subsequent population growth blossomed in Antioch because southeast Davidson County had — and still has — large amounts of developable land. It’s an obvious factor but fundamental in considering the Antioch surge.
“You’ve seen the Hermitage area increase, but it simply doesn’t have the amount of land that you have available in the southeast,” Bernhardt said. “That’s the biggest thing. The reason it’s increased so much is because it’s had so much vacant land, developable land you could use.”
Farmland, of course, isn’t naturally ready for construction. Bernhardt credits the city’s decision in 2004 to run sewer lines along the Mill Creek corridor, which opened up new terrain for development, especially in Councilman Parker Toler’s District 31, which grew by 73 percent since 2000.
“That’s what brought the open land that people could develop, and people who owned the land wanted to sell it,” Toler said. “Some of them had had it in their families for years, and the value was better for them to keep it for cows. But that sewer line came along, the land took on a value for residential and commercial development.”
If the county’s10-year population trends continue, Antioch would remain the epicenter of growth. With that comes challenges.
“I think it can grow,” Bernhardt said. “I think the question and challenge is going to be the road system, and obviously schools and parks and stuff like that. It’s growing, but we’ve got to be careful to make sure that it has the complementary services it needs to be sustainable.”
City services and utilities have long been a sore spot for Antioch-area council members, who have often questioned whether the city is sufficiently investing in the part of the county that is growing the most.
“I don’t know if the investment has been in Bellevue or Madison, but I can tell you it hasn’t been here,” said Metro Councilman Sam Coleman, a resident of Antioch since 1978, whose district grew 77 percent. “Over the years, I’ve been telling the mayor that one-fourth of the population of Davidson County lives in the Antioch area.
“To keep this part of the city growing, I think the city needs to help out a little bit more with their development plan,” Coleman said, adding that means infrastructure, improved streets, beautification projects, continued police protection and a community center.
Southeast residents thought they were getting that community center, along with a new library, public health center and city archives, when Mayor Karl Dean held a media event last summer to announce a plan to transform struggling Hickory Hollow Mall with the addition of these city services, along with a relocated fairgrounds expo center. The mayor pulled back on the expo center relocation last winter, but his administration vowed that the other public outfits would still be on the way.
Months later, the archives project has been scrapped altogether, and there’s still no announcement on the new library and community center, leaving some council members wondering of the project is still in the works.
Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling said the city is conducting appraisals on the mall’s value. He said as soon as the administration can negotiate a “fair deal” with CBL & Associates Properties, the mall’s owner, Metro would buy former J.C. Penney building to house the library and center.
“We have money in the capital budget to build the community center and library there,” Riebeling said. “And that’s still our plan.”
He shook off the notion that Antioch is somehow deprived of public investments.
“I think there’s probably 35 [council] districts in this city that would probably feel the same way,” he said. “That being said, it is true that area has grown at a level much faster than the rest of the county, and so I think needs need to be addressed. If in fact, there’s things that need to be done — road projects or other development — assuming we’re around for a second term, those are some issues that need to be addressed.”
Southeast Davidson County has received some new projects. A new firehouse is slated for Hobson Pike. Cane Ridge High School, which according to Metro schools data is under capacity, opened three years ago to help overcrowded Antioch High. Funds have been allotted for a new elementary school in the Cane Ridge area.
But Councilman Robert Duvall, who represents parts of Antioch, said he’s concerned with some basic investments in parts of his district near Mt. View Road, especially sidewalks, a situation he described as “horrible.” He said the only sidewalks in some areas came from developers. Duvall said Thomas Edison Elementary School and John F. Kennedy Middle School don’t have adequate sidewalks.
“Kids have to get out on these dangerous two-lane roads if they walk to school,” Duvall said. “That is a big detriment to the area.”
Metro Public Works Director Billy Lynch said his department received $12 million for repaving projects and another $12 million for sidewalks for the current fiscal year, twice the sum the mayor and council typically authorize. Throughout Duvall’s area, Lynch said there’s approximately $778,000 set aside for sidewalks over the next few years, and more than $500,000 for paving projects.
“That’s quite a bit,” he said. “We try to take where the worst roads are, prioritize them. Same with sidewalks. We have to work in all 35 districts to make sure we’re covering the entire city.”
Looking over his data, Lynch, a grizzled Metro veteran, can run down a laundry list of Public Works activity in southeast Davidson County: expanded curbside recycling, hundreds of traffic sign and signal requests, bridge maintenance and several completed paving and sidewalks projects.
“There’s not a district in this city that Public Works has not responded to in large numbers,” Lynch said.