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VOL. 41 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 5, 2017

Builders, buyers discover hidden gem in White House

Once-sleepy town hits growth spurt as home prices surge elsewhere

By Holie Deese

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Erin Robertson, 30, and her husband, Joel, 34, moved to White House in 2013, drawn to the rural nature of the small city far removed from traffic and crowds but close enough to I-65 they can get to Nashville or Bowling Green fairly quickly.

“I didn’t really want to live in a more suburban area, I wanted to live out more in the country,” says Joel, who grew up in the small West Tennessee town of Lexington. “That is what I wanted to look for, and yet still have the convenience of I-65 to get to Nashville.”

They met at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville and were married in 2008. This was the first home they bought as a couple, and with 125 open acres behind it and an open field across it, the setting is ideal.

Erin is from Hendersonville and remembers White House as a place she only visited when she had a basketball game for school, with no place to eat or shop.

“It was a blinking red light,” she says.

But her perception has certainly changed in the four years she has lived in White House, where she explains they have stopped counting all of the brand new businesses and buildings being constructed.

“I think we got up to 15 or 20 and stopped counting. And that was just the first couple of years,” Erin adds.

Amenities a plus

The Robertson family outside their White House home. Joel, Erin, Jude (7) and Lukas (4). Joel works in Green Hills and appreciates the easy access to I-65.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

In 2015, the city built a brand new library that houses Soteria, a small, organic coffee shop and café. Right behind the library is a brand new splash pad at the White House Recreational Complex. Opened last summer, it has since doubled in size after the addition of a pirate ship element made possible by a $500,000 matching grant for the $1 million dollar parks project.

The expanded splash pad – 5,000-square-feet in all – opens this weekend, and is the most recent element in a seven-phase, $7.5 million plan the city revealed in 2014 that also includes an amphitheater and community center.

“Our final piece will be a recreation center on the hillside, multi-purpose gyms and an indoor walking track,” says Gerald Herman, White House city administrator. “We will have that all built out, I am hoping in five years.”

These are all things that appeal to the Robertsons, who have two children, Jude, 7 and Lukas, 4.

“I spent the whole summer with the boys there last year and they only had half of it built,” Erin says of the splash pad. “They had a new playground put in the first year we were here four years ago that was built for students with handicaps, and there is a little boy in a wheelchair they dedicated it to. The new library is wonderful and then the splash pad is right behind that too.”

Herman says the White House services board has been studying for the past eight months where to expand, how to expand and what are the future needs of the city that will tie into their comprehensive plan next year. The board is trying to identify properties that could be given to the city or be purchased. The next step is what to do with the properties.

Summerlin, a 299-home subdivision in White House, is near another Goodall Homes development, Settler’s Ridge, which will have 51 houses starting at 215,000.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

One idea is purchasing land to expand the number of fields at the White House Soccer Complex.

The city is open to private partnerships, like a pro-disc golfer resident who designed and volunteered to create a course on some unused land, or the all-inclusive playground donated by Miracle Recreations to honor two White House brothers, Conner and Cayden Long, one who has hypertonic cerebral palsy.

A local Boy Scout, Dylan Jarrett, built a picnic shelter near the splash pad as a way to provide a shade structure. He’s working toward becoming an Eagle Scout.

“This community is a very charitable community,” Herman adds. “What makes this community so great is the values of the people who live here. It is a really nice, comfortable community to live in.”

Oliver Barry, Sumner Association of Realtors president and Parks Realty agent, also points out how far ahead White House has come with its greenways development, which he has used personally for the last decade.

“They’ve got crosswalks at the major roads with flashing lights, so you shouldn’t have to slow down running across the road,” he says. “It goes about six miles out and back, and they’re eventually going to make it go all around the city, so that’s pretty progressive thinking for a small town I think.”

White House “has good people and it is a comfortable place to call home,” says Todd Reynolds, VP of sales for Goodall. “It sounds kind of corny but I do believe it draws people to that area and makes them feel comfy.”

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

The price points of what is being built is what is most appealing to first-time homebuyers, and for those being priced out of more populated Hendersonville and Gallatin.

“We do appeal to young people, and probably our average age is 34-35,” Herman points out. “Our average household income is around $63,000 so they can afford a $200,000-$250,000 home, and that is pretty much what the builders are building these days.”

Restaurants, retail needed

Everyone can agree that fast food is not an issue in White House, but it’s the locally-run spots and sit-down establishments that are still lacking. That can drive people to go to other cities nearby instead of spending in White House.

“We have limited options to eat,” Joel says. “No locally-owned restaurants. Shopping wise… Walmart. So, we go to Hendersonville a lot.”

Mandy Christenson, White House Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, says she doesn’t have a checklist of things she would live to see come to the area and simply wants the growth to remain responsible.

“We do have a couple more coming in, but we seem to get all the fast food,” Herman says. “Captain D’s has all their permits approved, just waiting to construct. Burger King is going in by the Walmart complex, Krystal [was] just approved, another Subway, a drive-thru Subway which is unique to this area.”

The local Kroger will be getting an upgrade sometime soon.

“We did purchase property to accommodate an expansion,” says Melissa Eads, marketing and public relations manager for Kroger. “The timing and scope of that expansion has not yet been finalized, so it will not be a 2017 project. We are still exploring our options, but are excited about our future growth in White House.”

Last weekend was the Discover White House business showcase that has been happening for more than 20 years. Christenson says it has grown from a traditional business expo to a full-on festival highlighting the city’s clubs, organizations and retailers with food trucks and inflatables.

This year there was even a petting zoo at White House Heritage High School as a fundraiser for the Future Farmers of America to be able to build a mini farm on campus.

“White House is unique in that it is a bedroom community,” she says. “A lot of people go out of White House to work, but when they come home they are very community focused. They are very good about supporting local businesses, their children are involved in afterschool activities or sporting activities, so it has a real community feel. That adds to our appeal for our businesses.”

Growth becoming an issue

Unfortunately, it’s exactly this kind of growth that might drive the Robertsons to move somewhere even less developed. “We plan on staying here specifically until (developers) start building across the road from us in the hay field,” Joel says. “Once they start building there we are going. We liked this property for this reason.”

The growth so far hasn’t bothered the couple. What’s coming down the pike might.

“They are planning on putting something like 1,000 houses in a planned subdivision and that is just going to make getting out to the highway a little difficult in the mornings,” Joel says. “We’ll have growing pains, and if White House doesn’t keep up with it, they will put themselves in a bind kind of like what Nashville has done.”

Joel commutes to Green Hills from White House every day for his job at Green Hills Barber, where he has worked the past five years. It takes him about 35 minutes, but sometimes it can take up to an hour. Erin’s drive is much less stressful, a “beautiful” 25 minutes along rural Highway 25 to Sumner Academy in Gallatin where she teaches music and Spanish.

“There is no traffic at all,” she points out.

As for Joel, it is only getting worse, both at home and in Green Hills where Southern Land Company is building a new 18 story, 310 unit residential tower, Vertis, right across from the mall.

“It will be outrageous down there,” Joel adds. “All the back streets that you would use several years ago to get around Hillsboro are all wrapped up as well so it doesn’t matter. But the traffic has gotten more congested since we have been here too.”

Still, the proximity and ease to Nashville is hard to beat, and it still has that small-town feel that people from Nashville complain has been lost to them.

“I have a real desire to see things and people do well and do better, and I have a heart for the community,” Christenson says. “Do I miss knowing everybody when I walk into the restaurant? Sometimes. But it is also nice to know that because of the growth we are able to enjoy the nice restaurants like Colorado Grill and Molipazzo, and some of the things we would not have had access to before.”

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