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Court Sides with Johns Hopkins in Belward Farm Dispute

Plaintiff: ‘The university's horrible breach of 'donor intent' and the Court's failure to hold it accountable for that breach is sure to send a chilling signal to all charitable donors’

Belward Farm FILE | North Potomac Patch
Belward Farm FILE | North Potomac Patch

A three-judge panel has sided with Johns Hopkins University in a legal battle over the fate of Belward Farm, a 138-acre site along Darnestown and Muddy Branch Road.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Thursday agreed with a lower court’s ruling that the University’s plans were in line with an agreement it had with Elizabeth Banks when she sold the land.

Johns Hopkins issued this statement Friday:

“Johns Hopkins is gratified by the ruling of the court. The university remains steadfast in its determination to develop the Belward Research Campus for the benefit of Montgomery County and in full compliance with its obligations under its agreement with Elizabeth Banks and her siblings. We are grateful to them, as we have always been.”

Banks’ family members plan on taking the case to the next level, to Maryland’s Court of Appeals, Tim Newell, lead plaintiff in the case, said in an emailed statement sent to Patch.

Newell provided the following statement:

"Once again, the Courts have made a ruling in this case as if it is solely a matter of basic Contract law.

"This case is not about a Contract.  This case is about the misuse of a generous charitable gift made by my aunt, a woman of modest means, to one of the nation's wealthiest universities.

"Belward Farm was my aunt's only real asset.  It was her legacy. And as the Court of Special Appeals judges admit in the very first page of their judgment, my Aunt 'was renowned, even revered, for her opposition to development in Montgomery County' and 'undoubtedly had a vision of how The Johns Hopkins University could, and would, steward her beloved family land.'

"That vision was the creation of a bucolic suburban campus that preserved the land, as she articulated numerous times. The university agreed to those conditions.

"She never would have gifted Belward Farm to Hopkins if she felt the university would have carte blanche to do anything it wanted with the property, especially create a commercial mega-development of nearly five million square feet.

"The university's horrible breach of 'donor intent' and the Court's failure to hold it accountable for that breach is sure to send a chilling signal to all charitable donors in Maryland and throughout the nation that nonprofits can accept a gift for a specific purpose, and then thumb their nose at the donor and use it for another.

"We look forward to the Maryland Court of Appeals agreeing to hear our case and settling this matter in way that protects donor intent once and for all."

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jodreydb November 26, 2013 at 08:46 AM
This sad case shows, once again, that you can't have your cake and eat it too - or more specifically, you cannot give something away and retain control over it. "Don't hang on - nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky" -- "Dust in the Wind", song by group Kansas. Promises made by respected institutions are merely lullabies, intended to soothe infants, not binding commitments. In the world we live in, there is no law -- there is only power.
megan December 02, 2013 at 10:42 PM
I hope they keep the tree facing Muddy Branch. This is terrible news, it was such a beautiful scenery to see the farm from the road. I'll be sad to see it go.

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