- Plans for a future road connection in Mt. Juliet conflict with city’s agricultural roots.
Sheep from Cloydland Farms graze next to Lebanon Road as automobiles zoom by, a daily illustration of past meets present on Wilson County’s west side.
In recent decades, both realities have co-existed in the bedroom community just outside of Nashville. After all, the farm predates Tennessee. Cloydland Farms was established in 1789, seven years before the Volunteer State became a state. The Cloydland property was deeded to U.S. Army Capt. John Cloyd through a Revolutionary War grant.
After a marriage with the Cloyd family, the Ligon family now operates the farmland, which remains a strong and active agricultural supplier.
“The farm doesn’t mean as much to me as my two children, but it’s awful close,” Bill Ligon, 72, said. “And you don’t sell your children.”
But the three Cloydland farms are in the midst of a continually evolving Mt. Juliet community with homes and businesses like Dollar General all around — a city that is seeking more roadways to keep up with traffic congestion as growth continues at a lightning pace. The scenario is common in fast-growing rural areas across the nation, forcing leaders and residents to make difficult decisions: improve infrastructure at the risk of impacting iconic local businesses or continue with foundational failures that irk longtime residents.
As Mt. Juliet leaders surveyed their community, engineers laid out a proposal: cut into a part of the Ligon farm off of Tate Lane, an area used to supply hay for the family’s livestock and other farms.
“I think everyone wants road and traffic improvements,” Mt. Juliet Mayor James Maness said. “For us, it’s finding what we can do that’s best for the community and trying to do the best we can working with people. We realize it impacts a lot of people and is not an easy thing to get through.”
No official actions have been taken or formally introduced, and city officials emphasized the initial proposals were to start the planning process and gather feedback.
More than 2,000 have signed an online petition to save the farm.
“The engineers were looking at a path we could take and looking at input,” said City Commissioner Ray Justice, who said he would not support a road through the Ligon farm. “Local input is don’t mess with anyone’s farm.”
Can the government take land?
In general, local governments enjoy eminent domain authority — as do utilities and railroads — to take land for the overall public benefit, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson Rebekah Hammonds said.
“So long as the taking (of land) is for the public good, the taking is usually granted, leaving the only issue the value of the taking,” said Gino Marchetti, Mt. Juliet’s city attorney.
The price offered is generally based on market value, according to the Federal Uniform Act. Marchetti estimates 90% of property acquisition cases are resolved through an agreement on the monetary amount. But if an agreement on a monetary amount isn’t reached, the case can go to court for a decision.
The Ligon farm is not in the Mt. Juliet city limits but is in the city’s urban growth boundary, the Ligons said.
The city is aware portions of land involved in its initial study aren’t in the city limits. But Mt. Juliet wants to first look at different scenarios to benefit the entire area, said Andy Barlow, director of Mt. Juliet Public Works and Engineering. Annexation and property acquisition consideration, Barlow said, is “far down the line at this point and time.”
Fellow Commissioner Scott Hefner also emphasized that the planning process was still early and also indicated a desire to look at other options at a recent commission meeting.
“I have no interest personally … in subdividing active farms,” Hefner said at the meeting.
Eminent domain and property acquisition by the government
Eminent domain and property acquisition of private property is done by local, state and federal government to provide public services, according to Dennis Huffer, executive director of the Tennessee Municipal Attorneys Association, who has written a handbook on eminent domain for Municipal Tennessee Advisory Service.
“The more growth you have the more services you need,” Huffer said. “A lot of times it’s more roads, more water lines … more access to services that governments provide – sewer, electricity, gas and so on. It’s unfortunate but necessary.”
There are a number of examples of government getting into property acquisitions:
- A project to expand Rossview Road in Clarksville-Montgomery County has included plans to take a portion land at a popular strawberry farm through eminent domain. Owner Billy McCraw has said it would negatively impact the business.
- Eminent domain was declared on property owners in Memphis for the proposed Byhalia Connection pipeline. Lawsuits were filed against landowners who wouldn’t sell. The Byhalia pipeline, which drew protests over concerns about health risks, including the impact to drinking water, was eventually canceled in 2021 by Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corp.
- In 2022, a Missouri bill designed to expand protections for farm and ranch families in certain eminent domain cases was signed into law. The bill tries to tighten restrictions on electrical utilities being able to using eminent domain and has a measure that farm owners would be paid 150% of fair market value if land is taken through eminent domain.
Local governments seeking right-of-way for infrastructure is common. Hendersonville, for instance, has two city transportation projects that will need to acquire right-of-way and another state-managed project to realign the Walton Ferry, Old Shackle Island and West Main intersection that is currently in the process of acquiring right-of-way.
Family farms in jeopardy
The Ligon farm off Tate Lane is about 67 acres within the approximate 250 total acres of Cloydland.
Only a few acres of the family farm would likely be considered for the road project, but Ligon and son Andy, 32, are concerned a roadway would create turns and triangles on remaining land, significantly diminishing production.
“It’s the highest yielding part of the farm,” Andy Ligon said.
The entire Ligon farm includes sheep, cattle and laying hens, said Bill Ligon, a former teacher at Westmoreland and Watertown high schools. The specific farm identified as the possible route for the future road is about 67 acres and is used to supply hay for more than 200 sheep and 35 cattle at Cloydland and is a provider for multiple farms in the area.
The decline of family farms as a whole and the impact on food costs should also be paid attention to, the Ligons say.
“If they keep closing family farms, factory farms will take over and they’ll charge whatever they want to … like the oil companies,” Bill Ligon said. “A lot of people have told me they ‘appreciate you not selling out.'”
Other road options
Discussion on the Western Connector has centered on incorporating, extending and realigning existing roads rather than developing one new through road from I-40 to Lebanon Pike as traffic continues to increase alongside the city’s growth.
The next steps would be to determine costs and other logistics, such as utility relocations and what right-of-way would be necessary, officials said. Plans are not final and development could be years in the future. The southern and middle sections of the future Western Connector could also be the priority, as the city anticipates a future Central Pike interchange off of Interstate 40 that is a TDOT managed project with a still unknown timeline.
One of the three plans for the northern leg of the Western Connector involves widening South Greenhill Road. Additional routes could also be considered as the city moves forward.
Reach Andy Humbles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-726-5939 and on Twitter @ AndyHumbles.