VOL. 41 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 5, 2017
One-light town going through big changes
By Holie Deese
Anyone looking to buy a home in Sumner County probably has already discovered three facts: existing inventory is low, new construction is what’s available, and a buyer’s best bet is White House.
The proverbial ‘if you blink you’ll miss it’ small town is edging toward a little city with easy interstate access to Nashville and newly built homes within the $200,000-$300,000 range.
White House has hit a growth spurt that may come as a surprise to anyone coming back to visit the folks.
“It has drastically changed,” says Mandy Christenson, president and CEO of the White House Chamber of Commerce and a native of the town.
“When I was growing up there was one stop light in town,’’ she adds. “Two grocery stores. I can remember when the first Dairy Queen came to town – DQ and Arby’s were the first fast food restaurants. For people who moved away and came back after five or 10 years, it almost seems to have happened overnight for them.”
There are currently two, 900-plus unit subdivisions on the horizon for White House, one from a Cross Plains developer and another from an international company, Walton Global. That project calls for 949 homes to be built at the Bear Creek at Burrus Ridge Property is waiting on the final master development plan. All of the zoning on that project is complete, and currently calls for eight phases of construction.
“In addition to the two 900 home subdivisions, we have another 150-200 home subdivision that will go before council for its first reading and has already been approved,” says Gerald Herman, city administrator, referring to a development by Ryan Homes.
“Bob Goodall is working on a 300-home subdivision,” he adds.
Herman moved to White House from Ohio nine years ago and says the town has not stopped growing from the moment he arrived. But the pace has been relatively moderate until lately, and he says he thinks that has helped preserve the small-town feel – so far.
He says a town needs lower taxes, good schools and low crime to grow, adding, “The city of White House has all three of those. Plus our proximity to Nashville, being 30 minutes to downtown, is pretty nice.”
The population of White House was just over 7,000 in 2000. The 2010 census put the population at 10,255, and the most recent special census had the count at 11,600, Herman says. That’s an increase of nearly 66 percent in 17 years.
“One thing at a time, and that is what I like,” Herman says. “This has been growing at a moderate pace. But we will see when they start these other subdivisions.”
“This is almost mind-boggling to me, but we have almost 350 cities in the state of Tennessee and we are in the top 50 as far as population,” Herman explains. “I think with the next census we will be in the top 40. We are just a small little town, but top 50 out of 350 is pretty significant.”
New housing booming
Todd Reynolds, vice president of sales for Goodall Homes, has been in the White House market as far back as the late 90s. Today, they are really ramping up construction now, including a 51-home development, Settler’s Ridge. The homes start at $215,000.
“White House has always been good to Bob (Goodall), even when the market has not always been very good in 2009 and 2010,” Reynolds says. “We had a neighborhood up there that kind of sustained us, and we could kind of click along. But, this really surpassed… I think our original plan to close 30 homes up there in 2017, now we are just like ‘Heck, let’s just sell them all. That is our goal now.”
A smaller neighborhood, Goodall started selling Settler’s Ridge in January and sold 12 the first month, 12 the second month and three the third – in an effort to slow sales. Goodall has sold five so far in April, so 32 of 51 have already been sold.
Reynolds says they were selling so quickly that they decided not to even build a model home and instead rented some office space in a small strip mall to hold appointments before taking people over to show them the available sites.
“We decided about two months ago there is no sense having a model home because by the time we got it decorated, we would be sold out,” Reynolds explains. “It is a lot of money to decorate a model, so it saved us some money. For me, it was interesting to step out of the box and find some rental space up there to sell from. It is out of character for me, but it has worked great.”
Still, high sales every month puts a lot of pressure on construction so developers are struggling to find that even flow. “It was like waterskiing for the first time until we kind of got our bearings,” Reynolds says. “You feel like you are servicing a part of the population who have just been waiting and could not find what they were looking for at the price. I have never seen it quite like this.
“The sponge is very dry and there is a lot of water to soak up.”
In an effort to incentivize development, White House city officials recently voted to change an ordinance that would allow Walton Global to pay sewer capacity fees over time instead of in one lump sum. The former ordinance required developers to pay each home site’s $2,500 sewer connection fee before construction began. For a development as large as Walton’s, it would add up to nearly $2.3 million dollars.
“They don’t fight you to death on building homes,” Reynolds points out. “They make it easy so you are able to put a good value out there. Not just because you can get the land less expensive, but also it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg for impact fees.”
In 2014, White House passed an ordinance lifting sprinkler-system restrictions for new construction, which at the time saved the 5,000-square-foot Shoe Show store $100,000 when it was built.
And apartments are coming too, including 144 units on Sage Road by the medical center.
“That filled up so fast the owners are just finishing up 96 more,” Herman says. “Then we just approved another 280 [apartment units] on the Sumner County side [White House is in two counties Robertson and Sumner].
“We never really had market-rate apartments in our city, some tax credit ones probably from the 90s, and then we had a couple more go up about 2-3 years ago.”
Herman says longtime residents love the new apartments since it offers affordable housing for their adult children to come home to after college. “We had parents saying they had nowhere for their kids who were coming out of college,” Herman says. “They wanted to live in White House, but we had no rentals. So we are starting to fill that need here.”
Agent Brian Stiles with Parks Realty moved to White House 12 years ago, drawn at that time to the schools, location and affordability. He still likes all those things, but now there’s more.
“It’s convenient, obviously, to Nashville,” Stiles says. “I don’t commute to Nashville every day, but it’s convenient for that. It’s convenient to Hendersonville. There’s enough in the community itself with Kroger with Walmart. “It feels like you’re in the country even though you’re in town.”
Parks Realty broker Oliver Barry is also the president of the Sumner Association of Realtors, and says in the last year and a half there have been two new apartment complexes on the Robertson County side.
“I think overall we’re probably looking at approximately 1,800 homes in the next couple of years,” Barry adds. “Lots of growth in White House, lots of new home construction, really more so slated than actually moving yet.”
Goodall has a second neighborhood, Summerlin, opening up in June or July just a few miles from the 200-home Settler’s Ridge. Lots are bigger and homes will be more expensive, and there will be 299 of them. Reynolds adds there is quite a list of people waiting on that too.
“White House is just like everywhere else in that regard,” Barry says. “There’s a lot of people moving into White House. I’m looking for mostly investment properties for my buyers and investment properties are not available at all. Say you bought a $75,000 dollar house. You’d expect to rent it at $700, and you just can’t find anything that you could rent there and make a profit on.”
It’s a far cry from post-recession times when Barry had a friend who built an office building on Raymond Hurst Parkway that took years to sell. Now that area is booming with commercial construction.
“I wouldn’t lift it for him because I didn’t want to fool with it,” Barry recalls. “I knew it was going to sit for a couple years, but that office building has sold since then, and there’s a lot more office buildings being built on Raymond Hurst Parkway. So, the commercial is expanding there, maybe not as quickly as the residents would want it, but I bet we’ll see some kind of a Streets of Indian Lake development out there.”
Herman says White House has been off the radar for a little bit while nearby parts of Middle Tennessee experienced big growth thanks to such businesses as the auto industry. Now it’s just White House’s turn.
“There is always something being built in White House, something coming out of the ground, just like everywhere else in Middle Tennessee,” Herman adds. “I think we are more of a moderate pace than some of the other cities around us. But look at Spring Hill – they were 7,500 people in 2000. Now, they are bigger than Gallatin. In 17 years they have grown by literally 30,000 people.”
Barry says White House’s growth can be directly attributed to Nashville’s popularity in all kinds of business sectors. “Nashville’s got a diverse economy – small manufacturing, high tech, hospital, automobile parts manufacturing,” Barry says.
“The whole area is thriving because of all those types of industries. I’m sure you know we have about 90 people moving in to the Nashville area a day.’’
It’s pricey to live in Nashville, and simply getting in or out of town can be a major hassle. White House has an advantage when it comes to traffic. Residents in Gallatin and Hendersonville have to take Vietnam Veterans Boulevard to get to I-65, and taking the bypass is a traffic nightmare.
Living in White House means bypassing the bypass and hopping on I-65. “And whether they are on the Sumner County or Robertson County side, you can probably be on the interstate in less than 10 minutes.’’ Barry says.
White House’s sixth hotel is currently being built, accommodating tourists feeling the crunch of downtown Nashville’s high rates.
“There is better infrastructure up there now and that makes a big difference,” Reynolds points out. “Once you get up there, you realize you are not that far from Rivergate, not that far from anything.”
Infrastructure an issue
More local traffic will come with the new homes, something Herman says definitely needs to be addressed.
“If they are able to get 800 homes in on the Robertson County side, the site is near the Heritage High School off of Highway 76, which is a two-lane road, so that much traffic is going to have to change the infrastructure for sure,” Herman adds.
Herman hears from residents, mainly out in the rural areas where all the new homes are being built, that White House is growing too large and the increased traffic is exactly what they moved to White House to get away from.
“It impacts (infrastructure), there is no doubt,” Herman explains. “You get more traffic. But we are going to get some of that as we grow just like everyone else around us has. We are trying to keep up. This IMPROVE Act that just got approved, I am hoping it is going to help us bring some more dollars in. We have some lane widening to do on 76. We are planning ahead. We are starting our 10-year comprehensive plan renewing that this year comes up in our budget, looking at long-term planning.”
The IMPROVE (Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy) Act was proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam to help fund the state’s $10 billion backlog in road projects. It passed the final vote last month.
“It affects everything,” Herman says of White House’s population growth. “Our sewer system, we have given orders to our public services director to double the size of our sewer capacity within five years. We are okay on capacity now, we are handling it, we could probably handle these big subdivisions, but I want to look 20 years out.”
Herman also wants to be sure they keep up with public safety services, police and fire as they grow too.
The current growth is the latest chapter in the deep history of White House, which was purchased in 1828 by Virginia settler Richard Stone Wilks. There was a trail that ran through the town connecting Kentucky to Nashville that was originally named the Louisville & Nashville Turnpike, but was renamed U.S. Highway 31 in 1928.
The city’s name came from a landmark, a two-story white house Wilks built that served food and offered lodging halfway along the trail, where horses could get water and travelers some respite. Once host to President Andrew Jackson, it was called by travelers as simply the “white house,” as that color was not widely used on homes at the time.
The original white house was torn down in 1951 with a replica built in 1986 that held the library, museum and chamber of commerce. In 2015, it just became a museum when the new library was built.
“I don’t know if other people feel this, but ever since we built homes in White House I go up the back way, and I always personally felt like I could unplug from the current of the day,” Reynolds says. “I felt like it was kind of an escape and I feel people sense that. It is not tangible but when you get there, it is an area the world has not quite overrun yet. It has good people and it is a comfortable place to call home.”
“It sounds kind of corny but I do believe it draws people to that area and makes them feel comfy,” Reynolds continues. “As the world grows and things get fast and we are connected all the time people feel the need to find something that reminds them of home and growing up.
“And I think White House is that way to people.”