Saturday, March 09, 2002

Suit over land price threatens Ky. package

The Associated Press

        GLENDALE, Ky. — A lawsuit filed over a land contract for part of the proposed Hyundai Motor Co. assembly plant site could delay Kentucky's efforts to put together land for the factory.

        Kenneth Floyd, 76, a Hardin County farmer, contends in the lawsuit he was misled into signing an option to sell his 140-acre farm for about $3,500 an acre, much below what his lawyer said other landowners would get.

        The dispute comes at a critical time. Last week Hyundai narrowed its choices to the Hardin County site, near Glendale, and a site near Montgomery, Ala. The company is believed near a final decision.

        The lawsuit was filed in Hardin Circuit Court this week.

        Mr. Floyd's attorney, James Kelley, said Thursday that Mr. Floyd “is of the opinion he was taken advantage of by the agent that had him sign the contract,” because other landowners in the area have been offered $8,000 to $12,000 an acre.

        Mr. Floyd signed the option with local real-estate agent George Lee Cave, who was acting on behalf of a Virginia company that has been soliciting purchase options for Kentucky. Mr. Kelley said if Mr. Floyd does not receive a more satisfactory offer and the company tries to execute the option, “Mr. Floyd would not sign the deed, and certainly that would cause some problems.”

        The only way Mr. Floyd would sign a deed against his will, Mr. Kelley said, would be under a court judgment, and it might take a trial to determine if such a judgment were warranted.

        That, obviously, would take time, and Mr. Kelley said he does not believe the state could assemble a suitable land parcel for the plant without Mr. Floyd's property. “It's probably one of the more vital pieces they have to have,” he said. “It's right in the middle” of the proposed plant site.

        Mr. Kelley said he “would hope that someone would call and we could resolve this amicably.”

        Meanwhile, Hardin County is proceeding with efforts to condemn 111 acres for the plant site after the owners, Norma and Paul Howlett, refused to sign options.

        The county has asked Hardin Circuit Court to appoint three commissioners who will have about two weeks to recommend a price for the land. At that point, the Howletts will be issued a summons and will have 20 days to challenge the price or the county's right to condemn the land.

        What happens from there, Hardin County Attorney Ken Howard said Thursday, would depend on the nature of the challenge and the kind of legal issues raised.

        The Howletts have hired an attorney, Hank Graddy, who disputes the county's authority to condemn the land.

        The county has made an offer of $1 million for the land. Leon Howlett, a son of Norma Howlett, said the family responded with an offer to sell the land for $10 million.

        But the family does not really want to sell the land, Leon Howlett said. “Our first goal is to be left alone.”


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