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Johns Hopkins Files Motion to Dismiss Donor Intent Lawsuit on Belward Farm

The university filed a motion Monday, Dec. 19 hoping to dismiss a lawsuit by the heirs of the former owners of Belward Farm.

Johns Hopkins University has fired back with legal action of its own in response to a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 by the heirs of the former owners of Belward Farm that asks Johns Hopkins University be forced to stop plans to build a 4.7 million-square-foot commercial science park on the property.

JHU filed a Motion to Dismiss or For Summary Judgment on Monday, Dec. 19, intending to dismiss the donor intent lawsuit by the heirs of Belward Farm.

“Twenty years later, plaintiffs as the successors to the former owners seek a broad declaratory judgment barring Johns Hopkins from developing its property in accordance with the express and unambiguous language of the contract and deed.

“However, because the complaint is largely premised on conceptual plans that may well change before being implemented, the bulk of plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment complaint fails ‘to allege facts ripe for adjudication and thus fail[s] to establish a justiciable controversy,’” the motion states.

Shortly after the motion was filed, former JHU fundraising official John Dearden – who spearheaded the Belward Farm donation – announced his support for the donor family’s lawsuit.

Dearden said he is in strong support of the family’s efforts because he “spent several years of [his] professional life working on [the gift],” according to a press release.

“[Dearden] is positive the University ‘understood the intent’ of the donor was to create a ‘version of [JHU’s] Homewood campus,’ not a high-rise commercial complex that is part of Montgomery County’s ‘Science City,’” the release states.

According to the release, Dearden was asked if he thought Elizabeth Banks – the owner of Belward Farm at the time of the original agreement – would have gifted the property to JHU if she knew the plans for a “Science City” instead of a small campus.

“In my opinion, no … strongly, she would not have endorsed that, she would not have made the gift if she had known they would not respect her intent,” Dearden said.

In response to Dearden’s comments, JHU Montgomery County campus spokeswoman Robin Ferrier said the issues were made clear in the original agreement. 

“Miss Banks and her co-owners, relatives Roland Banks and Beulah Newell, expressed their desires about the future of the property and Johns Hopkins’ obligations in the contract of sale and the deed,” Ferrier wrote in an email. 

Ferrier said she is unsure of a timeline for the motion to be decided, but the plaintiffs will have an opportunity to file a response to JHU's motion.

The university agreed in 1989 to use the property only for academic purposes and called for a low-rise academic campus no larger than 1.4 million square feet of gross floor area.

Banks sold the property to the university in 1989 for $5 million. The difference between the farm’s $50 million value and its sale price was considered a donation to JHU with the understanding that the university would own and operate the land under the aforementioned agreement.

Since then, the university has released plans to build a 4.7 million square foot commercial science park on the property.

Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) December 20, 2011 at 10:48 PM
Bob McCartney from the Washington Post said: "...it’s sad that Banks’s deepest wish — to prevent overbuilding on what are now rolling, grassy fields at Belward Farm — is at severe risk of being bulldozed. And it’s doubly sad, and even shameful, that the culprit that might betray her is the very institution that she trusted to honor her desires: Johns Hopkins University." This is exactly what the residents who live near Belward Farm have been saying for 4 years. Ms. Banks wanted a minimally intrusive academic or medical campus that would maintain the character of her farm and serve as a legacy to her family who had owned Belward Farm for over 100 years. We told the President and other officials from Johns Hopkins...they didn't care. They want the money. We told County Executive Ike Leggett. He didn't care because the county wants the money. We told the Montgomery County Council. Most of them didn't care because the developers who contribute to their campaigns want the money. Ms. Banks trusted Johns Hopkins. She knew they understood what she wanted for her farm and she was willing to sell it to Hopkins for a gift price in order to ensure that her intentions were honored. She even trusted them to write the contracts. Unfortunately, her trust was betrayed by Johns Hopkins right from the beginning. When big money is involved, ethics and morality fly out the window. Shameful indeed!
Kyle Walker December 21, 2011 at 02:33 PM
John Hopkins and every developer associated with this project should be ashamed of themselves. Ms Banks intentions were clear. Johns Hopkins motion for summary judgement based on "conceptual plans" is a further embarassment. It is just plain dishonest. Will it still be "conceptual" after it is built?

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