Widow opposes taking of home

By Kerry Duke
The Cincinnati Post staff reporter

May 29, 2007

Cincinnati, Ohio - The bright yellow solarium is Florence Matthews' favorite room in her house, which stands at the corner of Lafayette and Eden in Bellevue, where she's lived virtually all her life.

The little room on the north side is where she sews, finishing the patchwork quilts begun by her late mother and making dresses for her granddaughter. It's where she spends time with her pug Peggy and gazes out to see boats move past on the Ohio River, and view a slice of city skyline.

It's where the 79-year-old widow remembers most everything in her life and where she wants to spend the rest of it - even if that means fighting the city of Bellevue all the way to the Supreme Court.

Her white brick-and-frame cottage stands in the way of Harbor Greene, a development the city of Bellevue sees as integral to its renaissance.

Her home is the last holdout, the last piece of property the developer, the Ackermann Group, needs for the next stage of the $65 million residential and commercial development along the old river town's riverfront.

"I just don't want to leave," Matthews said. "The thought of tearing it down would be horrible for me. I think I would just flip off into the ..." and here, her voice stops at a loss for words.

Matthews hasn't bowed out quietly. She and the city have fought in court over the city's efforts to acquire the property through eminent domain for the past four years. Twice the case has been to the Court of Appeals and twice remanded to Campbell Circuit Court. The case heads back to court Wednesday.

"It's very important to our economic viability," Bellevue Mayor Jack Meyer said of the Harbor Greene development. "With everything else that is going on as far as expenses, any development like that is important to the city."

No matter what happens, Matthews vows to continue the fight. She says there's too much at stake.

"Everything that has ever happened to me has happened in this house," she said. "Everything worthwhile."

Her family moved into the house shortly after the 1937 flood, when she was about 10 years old. It was the first home her parents ever owned. A framed photograph of them hangs in her kitchen.

After she married and had children, her husband died, leaving her with 13-month-old twins. So she moved from Cincinnati to an apartment around the corner on Fairfield to be close to her parents.

The apartment was called "up home"; the house on Lafayette was called "down home," and was the center of family life.

After her parents died, she inherited the house, reared her two children and stayed there as they grew up and left home.

Her daughter, Kay Matthews, made her home in Bellevue on Glazier Avenue.

Her son, Kevin, teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and has written op-ed columns for The Post.

"I've been here all my life almost," said Matthews. "My whole life has been spent here. I don't know any other home. I'm very attached to it."

Every corner of her home is filled with memories.

"My mom and dad," she said as she recounted all that her home means to her. "Family. Growing up here. Going all through school. My brothers all went through school and graduated from here. And the river."

She said she would be willing to lose part of her yard to Harbor Greene so the street could be widened for the development's entranceway.

She wouldn't mind living next to a multi-story condominium.

"I could tolerate that'" she said. "I could tolerate that better than the city of Bellevue. I wouldn't care because I wouldn't bother them and I would expect them not to bother me."

But she said the city is intent is to acquire her home - something she "couldn't put a price on" and couldn't part with.

"Eminent domain is a terrible thing because of what it does to people," she said. "They can come right in and say 'We want your property.' Nobody is safe.

"Everybody thinks they own their own home. But they really don't own anything if the city can come over and say they want their property and it's gone.

"That's not right. That's not the American way, I don't think."



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