Longtime resident laments plans to build five-story apartment building along three sides of her home

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.

This house at 1115 Indiana Street sits between two apartment complexes at the bottom of a hill on the west side of Indiana.

Ninety-one-year-old Georgia Bell already knows a lot about living with college students, but soon it may go to a whole new level — or more accurately, five levels.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday approved the rezoning for a five-story, 175-unit apartment and retail building to be constructed near the edge of the Kansas University campus near 11th and Indiana streets.

But the development has a twist: As currently proposed, Bell’s modest home would be surrounded on three sides by the five-story building, after Bell and the development company haven’t been able to strike a deal for her property.

It may sound like a plot twist from a sitcom, but these days it is creating more concern than laughs.

“She has the right to be there, and we wouldn’t try to do anything to make her move,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “But I’m afraid she is not going to be very happy there.”

Bell, who has lived at her home at 1115 Indiana St. for about 70 years, agrees.

“I don’t like any of this,” she said.

For the past 50 years, Bell’s property has been surrounded on three sides by the Berkeley Flats apartment complex. But during that time, Bell at least has been able to access the back door of her home through an unwritten agreement that she could drive through the Berkeley Flats parking lot. But with the new development, there won’t be a parking lot to drive through. It will be covered by the building. That leaves Bell’s only access as a steep flight of stairs that connects Indiana Street to her front yard.

A leader with the Chicago-based student housing company seeking to build the project said he has tried many times to purchase the property from Bell. In fact, he told city commissioners that he has offered her $600,000 for the property, which currently is valued for tax purposes at about $93,000.

Bell said, actually, the representative once offered her $700,000 for the property, and she preliminarily accepted the bid. But Bell never finalized the deal, and to understand why, you have to understand a little bit about her life.

Bell raised six children at the home, primarily as a single mother.

“I didn’t know beans when the bag was open,” Bell said of her naivety.

A conversation with Bell will reveal a host of stories where Bell believes she has been taken advantage of — ranging from insurance claims to lost jobs to disputes with her student neighbors.

“Everything I have ever tried to do, someone else has seen it and thought it looked pretty good and taken it from me,” Bell said. “That is why I am so slow to move.”

Bell said she is still very interested in selling the property. “I’ve had my fill of it,” she said.

It is unclear, though, whether a deal will be struck. Jim Heffernan, a leader with Chicago-based HERE, LLC, said if a deal could be struck in a matter of weeks, the building’s design perhaps could be modified to take advantage of the space. But after that point, the only use for the property would be for open space, and the amount the company is willing to pay for that would decline significantly.

Bell’s son Norman Bell said he has been advising his mother to hire an attorney and complete a deal. But he said his mother is “pretty independent” when it comes to the matter.

As for the apartment complex, Heffernan said the company will seek to secure financing by the end of the year, and construction is expected to take 18 months to complete. As planned, the project will create a major transformation of the property, which is across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium.

“The building design is reminiscent of a downtown,” said Heffernan. “We think it will look similar to what a downtown in the 1950s would look like.”

Among the plan’s details:

• The building would house 171 to 176 apartment units with a total of 592 bedrooms.

• The development would include a 592-space, underground, automated parking garage system that would use a system of lifts and tracks to park and retrieve vehicles.

• The building would have about 11,000 square feet of retail or restaurant uses, with spaces along both Mississippi and Indiana streets.

The project is expected to ask for some financial incentives from the city, but developers haven’t yet filed an application for a specific request. Any incentive package will require approval from the City Commission.