Look West, Young Nashvillian
Nashville home prices got you down? It’s time to take another look at Bellevue.
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Everyone else: Nashville is too expensive. Nashville is too crowded. I have to drive to everything. The good schools are jam-packed.
Bellevue (tosses head, checks nails): Sorry for your troubles, buddy.
On a nice day in Bellevue, you can walk your kid to school, take an exercise class, paddle along the river, play some tennis, shop in a favorite store, see a movie, eat sushi, eat Italian, eat Indian, go ice skating, or watch your kid’s soccer game—all within a few miles.
You could also make the drive into midtown/downtown Nashville in about 20 minutes for big city arts, sports and entertainment.
Bellevue’s population has jumped to about 80,000 people over the past decade. Ask a Bellevunian how the hamlet grew so rapidly and the answers are location, location, location, real estate prices, amenities, and housing for every phase of life.
Jodie Meadows, a mammographer, is native to Bellevue. Her family lived on several farms in Bellevue in the 1970s and ’80s, including one where the new Bellevue High School is being built. “We had cows and chickens and horses. It was wonderful! People in Nashville didn’t even know Bellevue was there,” she says.
Soon enough, though, newcomers and natives both noticed the house prices and open spaces. Kathy Robbins chose Bellevue almost 40 years ago. “It felt like its own little town,” she says, with the undeveloped woods and fields that Meadows describes, but also stores, schools and more. What clinched the deal for her was “affordability compared to West Meade.”
Robbins’ neighborhood is full of longtime residents like neighbors Arnell Willis and Marlene Alvarez, whom she’s known for decades. They all remember Bellevue’s “country feel” and large undeveloped areas. Kids could play in the woods, where there were still old cabins to be discovered and explored. They all loved the Bellevue Mall and were stricken when it closed in the mid-Aughts.
Fast-forward 30 years to 2013. Gloria Hausser was living in Lockeland Springs, but those Bellevue housing prices and open spaces were too attractive to pass up. So she headed west.
“Bellevue had the convenience,” she says. “I could get on I-40 at Exit 196. It had more trees and open space than I could get closer in for the same amount of money.”
Hausser is now one of Bellevue’s two representatives on the Metropolitan Council.
Even though Bellevue’s population more than doubled from 2000-15, the area remains relatively affordable, with many different kinds of housing available, often for less than $500,000, and rentals average less than $2,500 a month. That’s still too steep for many, but it’s also well below other west-side neighborhoods.
“We’re lucky in Bellevue because we are still affordable, but we have a whole variety of ways to live,” says Hausser. “We have moderate to exorbitant apartments. Condos. Homes on a quarter-acre lot and homes on a big lot. We have at least three 55+ neighborhoods, three different complexes from independent living to nursing home.”
Bellevue also has abundant institutions and places for recreation. The new high school means a shorter ride for students who currently attend Hillwood High. There are both softball and soccer fields, places to skate. Or you can find a trivia night, market pop-ups, writers nights.
Speaking of music, and Music City, Bellevue boasts more musical instrument stores and services than anywhere else on the west side. Family-owned Bandwagon music and instrument repair is the flag bearer, but there are many others.
These days, Bellevue, the suburb formerly referred to occasionally as “Divorce-vue” or “Sticks-vue” looks a whole lot like the whole package.
Smart growth going forward
Development in Bellevue did start off a bit haphazardly, as individual farms were redeveloped individually. But now there’s a plan for future development that’s based on walkable/bikeable neighborhoods and smart, sustainable growth.
That plan emphasizes adding housing with common greenspace, which Bellevue still has in abundance. The ideal for Bellevue growth is that housing be developed within a walk/bike ride of services and amenities, and the area already has a good start on this.
Older parts of Bellevue cluster near sidewalks and bike lanes, meaning some neighborhoods are already reasonably pedestrian friendly. River Plantation, for example, spreads along both sides of Sawyer Brown Road in a mid-density mix of housing that includes shared green space, walkable areas and access to bike lanes.
The walkable area plus average houses appealed to Carrie Ferguson when she moved to Bellevue from Kingston Springs. Her neighborhood near Bellevue Library and Red Caboose park was built several decades ago and comprises mostly 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot one-story houses. “They’re perfect for single people, older people and for small starter homes,” Ferguson says. “That is just not findable in Nashville right now. I feel incredibly lucky.”
Although ranch- and cottage-style houses might seem very mid-century, they are ideal for a lot of families. One-level living and modest square footage are becoming scarcer in the market, as builders offer larger and larger homes to maximize their profits.
Economists even have a name for this phenomenon: “the missing middle.” Right now, the U.S. housing market is heavily stocked with big, new, expensive houses, often rising to three stories (yep, our beloved “tall and skinnies”) that are impractical for, say, first-time buyers or young families.
Bellevue still has a lot of “middle.”
Wildlife, diversity, good eats — and a new school
So let’s talk about those amenities, because there are a lot of them.
Topography — Bellevue has it. The combination of peaks and floodplains provide excellent corridors for wildlife. Highway 70 South to Bellevue runs through a literal greenspace — the Hill Forest, a large, pristine tract donated by the H.G. Hill family and designated for wildlife preservation.
For cyclists, walkers and nature buffs, the Harpeth River greenway and bikeway provide nine miles of communing with nature, from Edwin Warner Park to the Harpeth bottomland on Morton Mill Road. The Warner parks are just down the road. Hidden Lake offers hiking with great views of the Harpeth and of the Veterans Cemetery.
Bellevue’s restaurant landscape is holding its own too, with local options and small chains that would be welcome in other parts of town: City Limits bakery, Bria Bistro, Voodoo Gumbo, Loveless Cafe, Pizza Perfect, Lemongrass Thai, Bar Louie and Eastern Peak are all popular options. Indian restaurant 615 Chutney, which struggled to find its footing in East Nashville, is thriving at Bellevue Valley Plaza. And even Green Hills casts a covetous eye toward Bellevue’s Sprouts grocery store and Red, a wine and spirits store with an excellent selection.
The attractions of Nashville are close enough to be convenient, but you don’t have to go downtown to have a good time. Youth ball leagues, roller hockey, the Handmade Nashville night market, concerts at Red Caboose Park.
Treasure hunters can while away many hours at McKay’s, a vast warehouse packed with used books and music, or at the massive Goodwill store. And 70 South Antiques may look petite from the outside, but it goes on and on, with almost 50 vendors offering beautiful things and well-made furniture from the past.
Ferguson enjoys strolling to the BELL Garden (Bellevue Edible Learning Lab), a large and popular community garden behind Bellevue Middle School. “You can walk right into the garden — it isn’t locked. I like to sit on the bench and listen to the chickens. There’s a lovely energy about being there,” she says. Anyone who wants to can pick produce from the garden to take home.
There are plenty of mainline Christian houses of worship, of course, but Bellevue is also home to Sri Ganesha, Nashville’s Hindu temple, and to ICN Bellevue Mosque, the second campus of the Islamic Center of Nashville, which is based in 12 South. “We are unique in having both of those temples,” Metro Council member Hausser says.
Hausser says that ethnically, her district is “still pretty white” and politically “it feels like it’s purple,” a mix of conservative and progressive.
As anecdotal evidence of that “purpling,” just look at the new James Lawson High School, named after the civil rights icon and being developed on 274 acres along Highway 70. (Bellevue hasn’t had its own high school since the early 1980s, when the city began bussing students to Hillwood.)
1 Percent Bellevue?
Okay, so Bellevue is cool. The People’s Bellevue. Bellevue for all.
And yet there is still another Bellevue — the Bellevue of the affluent.
Take Buffalo Road, for instance. One especially beautiful house was built in the modern style sometime after the 1940s for a fabulously well-off insurance heir. The house is set into a hillside by a stream and has a Frank Lloyd Wright “Falling Water” vibe, all gleaming wood floors and a bathroom with a glass wall outside of which is a hot tub under the trees.
Or check out Poplar Creek, where George Boedecker (the guy who invented Crocs) has dotted his estate with whimsical sculptures of dinosaurs, a bear and a tiger. It’s a fun Sunday drive.
And, because it’s Nashville, Bellevue has had its share of celebrities — Syl Sylvain of New York Dolls lived in Bellevue prior to his death in 2021. And we keep hearing rumors about some dude named something like Renry Hollins, who sold his house in the Hollywood Hills and bought a warehouse downtown, and possibly a house in West Nashville? It’s big if true but can’t be confirmed at this time.
Which is fine. Bellevue keeps some of her secrets to herself.