Outside a Northern Kentucky courtroom Thursday, moments after a Bellevue, Ky. woman reluctantly agreed to sign her childhood home over to the city, her son said his mother's case serves as a cautionary tale for all about the threat he believes eminent domain laws pose.
Campbell Circuit Court Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward signed a settlement between the city of Bellevue and Florence Matthews Thursday morning that ends legal challenges first filed by the 79-year-old woman four years ago, contesting the city's right to acquire her 97-year-old home through the power of eminent domain.
The city agreed to pay $200,000 for Matthews' riverfront home, which, according to county property records, she actually sold to her children, Leah Kay and Charles Kevin Matthews, for $61,200 in April.
In turn, Mrs. Matthews agreed to move from the Lafayette Avenue residence within the next 18 months to make way for a wider road to the $65 million Harbor Greene development along Bellevue's riverfront.
Mrs. Matthews was the sole holdout among numerous property owners whose land was first targeted 18 years ago for Bellevue's urban renewal plan.
But after five years and two rounds in both Campbell Circuit Court and the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the case was finally resolved.
Kevin Matthews said his mother and her family simply felt they were out of options.
"We were forced to come to an agreement. We had no choice the way the eminent domain laws are written," said Matthews, a history professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
"I know there's a difference between justice and the law and this is a good example of that. ... What we had to do today is sign away my mother's property. ... Mom just wanted to live there the rest of her life."
Bellevue city leaders referred all questions about the settlement to Paul Alley, who has represented the city in the case. He said that although the settlement was long in coming, it is key to the city's future since road improvements essential to the city's overall revitalization can now proceed.
Harbor Greene is a combined residential and commercial project being developed by Cincinnati-based Ackermann Group that spreads high-end condos and office space along 12 acres east of Port Bellevue. Matthews' modest home sits at the corner of Lafayette and Eden avenues, where Alley said the street must be widened for daily traffic as well as emergency vehicle access to the riverfront complexes.
"The street construction is needed to facilitate growth in the area," Alley said. The street widening is the final element of the city's urban renewal plan, he said.
Mrs. Matthews admits that her fight was never with the plan, per se. In fact, she sat on Bellevue's Planning and Zoning Commission when the plan was approved in 1989 and voted for it.
"I voted for it, but I never knew my home would be taken away from me," she said. "... They even said they were going to put tennis courts across from my home. I thought I would get to have the river and tennis also. I like tennis."
Mrs. Matthews said she'd like to stay in Bellevue. But, at $400,000 and up, it's doubtful that she'll be moving into one of those neighboring Harbor Greene condos since her son estimated she would be left with little more than $150,000 from the sale of the family home after paying legal fees and taxes.
Mrs. Matthews said even the $1.6 million penthouse condo next door pales in comparison to what she's used to.
"I've got seven rooms and two big yards," she said of her beloved home. "And my flowers are there. Everything's there."
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