Developer John Rochford is joined by Neika Stephens and local leaders to cut the ribbon on the Stephens Valley development/Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
Dozens of Williamson County and Nashville leaders gathered outside a small building on Sneed Road Wednesday morning to cut the ribbon on the Stephens Valley development’s welcome center.
John Rochford, the head of Rochford Realty and Construction Company, said the project spans nearly 1,000 acres in Davidson and Williamson counties, bordered on three sides by the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The development will be mixed-use, with space for restaurants, offices, a town center and a health center, Rochford said. Eighty-five percent of the development will be single-family homes in Williamson County, Rochford said, with stacked flats and townhomes comprising the Davidson County residences.
Bill Stephens, now deceased, inherited the land from his family, which founded Stephens Manufacturing Company in Nashville in 1925. It was originally used as a pig farm, Rochford said.
Rochford said he became acquainted with the Stephens through his involvement in the Reserve at Temple Hills, a development that backed up to the Stephens property.
The land, which was sold to Rochford’s company in recent years, has been in the Stephens family since 1930, said Neika Stephens, Bill Stephen’s widow.
Her husband’s vision, Stephens said, was to, “maximize the use of land or funds for kingdom purpose.”
In 1958, Bill Stephens created the Stephens Christian Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering Christian education at Lipscomb University, among other colleges, and other Christian causes; Stephens herself was a longtime board member at Lipscomb University.
“He held on to the land until he found developers who shared his vision,” she said.
At the ceremony, Stephens held her husband’s walking stick before speaking briefly. “I’m overwhelmed by this moment,” she said tearfully.
Local government officials and community economic leaders also spoke during the event.
“I wish I could get Mayor Briley to let us get the county line moved to let us pick up some of the commercial development he’s got over there,” Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson joked to Nashville Vice Mayor David Briley.
“It’s negotiable,” Briley laughed.
“The relationship between Williamson County and Davidson County is, I think, as strong as it has ever been,” Briley continued. “We are now even more intertwined, economically and in virtually every respect than we ever have been before.”
“Any growth doesn’t come all a bed of roses,” Rochford said during his speech to those gathered. “There’s always some people that might have a few comments on how it should happen, where it should happen and if it should even happen at all,” he acknowledged.
Laura Turner, a member of Citizens for Old Natchez Trace, is a Franklin resident who has long been opposed to the development.
“Our community’s pushback to this megadensity development is moving forward and gaining more momentum. We want real rural preservation, not density devastation,” she wrote in an editorial to the Tennessean in May of 2016.
Red signs, spaced out by several hundred feet, dot fencelines along Sneed Road, urging viewers to visit www.savestephensvalley.com. The website cites increased traffic and an overburdening of county infrastructure as primary concerns.
But Rochford believes the benefits the community will bring to county infrastructure will outweigh any negatives; during his speech, he pointed out that his company had already made $11.4 million in off-site road improvements.
“It’s not really about traffic, it’s really about the use,” he said of project dissenters. “They thought the land shouldn’t be developed.”
“Where are people going to live that want to have a yard?” he said. “Not everybody’s going to want to live in the Gulch.”
Rochford said the houses, custom built by Celebration Homes, will be ready by the summer of 2018.
The welcome center, located at 411 Sneed Road, is open for visitors to look at a diorama of the project, read the story of the land and view the future of the valley through virtual reality, 3-D goggles.
J Roderick “Rod” Heller III, the developer for the Harpeth Square project, attended the ribbon cutting. Though Rochford is a business partner of his in that endeavor, Heller said he had no ties to the Stephens Valley project.
“We’re here simply as supporters of John,” Heller said. “Enthusiastic supporters,” he added.