91-year old woman faced with apartment complex building around her home reaches deal to sell to development company

In this March file photo, Lawrence resident Georgia Bell, who is 91 and lives at 1115 Indiana Street, talks about her dealings with developers who have expressed their interest in buying her property, which is surrounded on three sides by the Berkeley Flats apartment complex.

It appears 91-year old Georgia Bell won’t be at the center of a large, new student apartment complex near Kansas University after all.

Bell said Wednesday that she has reached a deal to sell her home of 70 years at 1115 Indiana St. to a Chicago-based development group that will use the land the home is on for a multistory student apartment complex. The pending sale would eliminate a plan for the apartment development to build a five-story building on three sides of Bell’s dilapidated home.

Bell did not release terms of the pending purchase, but in March, the Chicago-based development group Here, LLC, told city officials they had offered Bell $600,000 for the modest home that is valued at about $93,000 by the county appraiser’s office.

But Bell — who raised six children at the home, primarily as a single mother — never signed a deal with the developers. And Here, LLC was successful in winning City Commission approval for a plan that would allow the complex of approximately 175 apartments to build along three sides of her property.

At the time, city commissioners expressed bewilderment that Bell would not accept the deal, but said she was within her rights to stay at her longtime home. On Wednesday, Bell said she didn’t take kindly to the comments of the commissioners, and she said she still wasn’t entirely satisfied with the deal she received from the development company.

“They thought they were so smart and I was so dumb,” Bell said. “They should keep their damn mouths shut up there at the City Commission.”

Bell said she hasn’t yet found a new place to live in Lawrence. She is looking, although she said after 70 years in one place, there are some difficulties.

“I can’t find all the streets in town,” Bell said. “I can’t find all the different terraces and avenues and the sort.”

A representative with the development company said demolition work could begin in the fall, with an expected opening of the complex by the 2016 school year. Here, LLC filed new plans that show the apartment project expanding onto Bell’s property. The plans indicated that the apartment complex will grow to 624 bedrooms, up from 592 under the previous plan that did not include Bell’s property.

“I think it is a win for Ms. Bell,” said James Heffernan, an executive with Here LLC. “It gives her an opportunity for a fresh start, which she wanted. It is good for the city because it will increase the tax rolls, and will allow for the removal of a property that had become blighted, honestly.”

The apartment project is slated to be built on the site of the Berkeley Flats apartment complex. Bell’s house has been adjacent to that student apartment complex for decades, but the new project would be significantly larger and would have eliminated Bell’s access to her back door, where she parks her car.

On Wednesday, Bell said she was more than willing to leave her longtime home but also was still worried about where she would land.

“I’ve had a hard time living here,” Bell said. “It isn’t so much whether I want to move or not. It is where I’m going to move to from here.”

Bell confirmed that she allowed a local attorney to help her craft a deal with Here, LLC, although she isn’t entirely happy about that either.

“I had (NBC news anchor) Brian Williams call me wanting to do a story,” Bell said about the media publicity she received after the Journal-World ran an article in March. “But then I told him I had an attorney, and he talked to the attorney and that was the end of that. I don’t tell people I have an attorney anymore.”