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Decision affects Belward Farm

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Published on: Monday, November 19, 2012

By Daryl Buchanan

GAITHERSBURG-Following a judge’s ruling a section of Montgomery County could be drastically changed by Johns Hopkins University.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin recently removed all development restrictions on the Belward Farm Property. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) bought the land valued at $50 million from the Banks family for only $5 million.

At the time of the purchase Elizabeth Banks said the $45 million difference was a gift to JHU with conditions that the land is used for a small academic or research campus covering 1.4 million acres of land.

Later JHU announced much larger plans for a “Science City” that includes 23 buildings ranging in size from three to 13 stories tall and parking spaces for 12,320 cars. According to JHU half of the buildings will be office space, 40 percent will be used for life science research, and 10 percent will be retail space. The new development plan would eventually use about 4.7 million square feet.

The Banks family cried foul and filed a lawsuit last year against JHU alleging that the “Science City” plans were not a part of the original agreement made with Elizabeth Banks in 1989. Tim Newell, nephew to Elizabeth, is the lead plaintiff for the family and says JHU is violating their original agreement.

“The original terms of the agreement were for Johns Hopkins to use the land as a satellite campus. We have been trying to protect the property from the kind of development Johns Hopkins has planned. It is sad and ironic that Johns Hopkins, the University of my Aunt was so fond of, has become the type of developer that she tried hard to protect the Farm from,” said Newell.

Following Judge Rubin’s decision Newell says the ruling is upsetting and an appeal will be filed.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Court reduced my Aunt Elizabeth Banks’ relationship with Hopkins to no more than 18 words in a contract, effectually ignoring a previous ruling which recognized the ambiguities of the agreement and required that the broader context be incorporated into consideration of the agreement’s enforcement,” said Newell.

“That the Court would side with Hopkins’ midnight hour, hail-Mary argument suggesting my aunt’s charitable donation was nothing more than a simple real-estate transaction is an insult to the generosity of my family, ignores the history and facts of this case, and threatens the rights of donors everywhere.”

The land has been argued over for decades. The lawsuit against JHU was originally filed in November of last year. JHU’s attempt to have the case dismissed in March of this year failed when a judge ruled that discovery in the case move forward.

Reader Comments - 1 Total

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Posted By: Dennis O'Shea, spokesman, The Johns Hopkins University On: 11/20/2012

Title: A comment from Johns Hopkins

There are so many things wrong with this story that it would be impossible to catalog them all. For starters, though: The judge's decision did NOT "remove all development restrictions on the Belward Farm Property." What the case did do, however, is confirm that the restriction agreed to by Miss Banks and her co-owners in the contract and deed that conveyed the land to the university was this: Development is limited to “agricultural, academic, research and development, delivery of health and medical care and services, or related purposes only.”
Johns Hopkins has never sought to remove that restriction. We intend to abide by it.
The issue in the case was not the restriction itself, but whether it addresses the height or density of buildings on the site or prevents the university from leasing to non-university tenants. The decision at the trial court level is that the restriction in the deed and contract does NOT govern those issues.
Another of the many, many problems with this story is that you did not contact the spokesman for the university (me) to solicit our comment on any of the points you raise. In response to Mr. Newell's comment about a "midnight hour, hail-Mary argument," I will, therefore, provide our comment here: Johns Hopkins has always been and remains most grateful for Miss Banks’ and her relatives’ generous gift of their property. We will always be grateful. Nothing we have said in court filings about the legal issues in this case can or should detract from that.
The fact remains, however, that this case was about 18 words in a contract and a deed. Those words represent an unambiguous agreement between the university and the Banks family members. They are the result of negotiations in which both parties were represented by lawyers. Both sides agreed in those negotiations to give up some, but not all, of what they originally wanted. But both also got substantial benefits. That is not, as Mr. Newell describes it, a change in position. It’s the simple truth.


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