The Keefauver family’s bulls and heifers have done an admirable job of “grass management” on a roomy tract of city-owned farmland that is slowly but surely coming into sight as the future home of a new municipal park, and further down the road, perhaps a new elementary school.
When Johnson City initiated negotiations in 2008 following recommendations from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the property’s possible uses included a park, school campus or both. The city will hire an architect to begin a review of possible uses for the property, and a master plan will be developed. But it still may be years before anything happens. And until that review is complete and public hearings are held, most city officials are holding off on identifying specific uses.
Technically, Keefauver Farm became a city possession a few years ago when the city paid half the total asking price. The purchase agreement also ensured the family could continue living in the home through 2013. But the family is preparing to relocate, meaning the city may or may not begin to act sooner than expected.
In July 2009, the City Commission unanimously approved the purchase of the $1.4 million, 53.6-acre Keefauver Farm. The expansive and historical property in Gray is located off Hales Chapel Road southwest of Bobby Hicks Highway — an area inside a larger geographical swath of land pinpointed by Johnson City for annexation and growth.
“Initially, we talked about a park, of course,” said Vice Mayor Phil Carriger. “It’s also been idle chatter that it could be a place to locate another elementary school. If you look, a lot of growth is in that area. That’s where the growth and demand is.”
Nicholas and Dicey Keefauver established the then-186-acre Keefauver Farm when Nicholas bought the property in 1803. The farm produced corn, wheat and livestock and by 1850 was expanded to more than 370 acres. The property was willed to his two sons, and the land has passed through the Keefauver family to its most recent owner, Billy Joe Keefauver.
The Keefauvers declined to comment.
Upon closing, the city paid $700,000. The other half of the total price is being paid in annual payments of $175,000 over a period of four years beginning in 2009. Basically, the Keefauvers asked for half up front and are financing the other half at 0 percent interest for the life of the loan.
In exchange, the Keefauvers have the right to remain on the property until 2013. They also have been charged with maintaining the premises, keeping insurance on their possessions and liability insurance for themselves and their visitors. They also indemnified the city for any liability or damages to the premises during their occupation there.
City Manager Pete Peterson, who was not immediately available, said at the time the agreement was signed that the advantage of having someone running cattle on the property is that it keeps city crews from having to go out and mow during the months the cattle are there. Peterson also said at the time that it could be some time before the city acts on developing the property.
“The family has been living on the property, and we stay in touch with them quite regularly,” said Charlie Stahl, assistant city manager. “They’re a wonderful family — very gracious folks.”
The farm is near the Bobby Hicks Highway corridor, a thoroughfare that is being widened to accommodate more traffic to Tri-Cities Regional Airport and to lay down the infrastructure for expected growth both to the north and south of Interstate 26. The city wants to expand its jurisdiction starting from just northeast of the Gray Fossil Museum parking lot past Interstate 26 to a point about 4.5 miles northwest on Tenn. Highway 75.
In mid-August, Angie Charles, a development specialist with the city’s planning department, told city officials about 600 acres, or 60 percent of all land proposed to be annexed, involves working farms.