Feb. 1 hearing scheduled on Belward Farm/Johns Hopkins University dispute (MD)

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Over the past months we’ve posted several stories about a dispute between heirs of  Elizabeth Beall Banks, the former Belward Farm property owner known also for her anti-development activism, and Johns Hopkins University.  A condition of the 1989 property sale requires “the property would be used only for academic purposes, research or medical care with no more than 1.4 million square feet developed.“  With university development plans now including a 4.7 million-square-foot campus and science park on the property, heirs are crying foul.

The Washington Post recently reported:

Johns Hopkins filed initial plans with the county this year to build a dense cluster of buildings, some up to 12 stories high, on farmland it bought from Banks in 1989. Many or most of the buildings are expected to be leased by the university to private companies or other parties. The complex would be an anchor of the ambitious “science city” that Montgomery wants to develop as one of its signature economic initiatives.

Though estimated with a value of more than $50 million, Banks reportedly sold the 138-acre farm to Johns Hopkins for $5 million based on a belief that the university would respect her wishes.

Meanwhile, heirs claim current plans violate terms of Banks’ sales contract and that Johns Hopkins is “ignoring Banks’s desire that Johns Hopkins would use the land for a leafy, academic satellite campus, with more space and smaller buildings.”

A hearing is set for Feb. 1 at the Judicial Center in Rockville during which the court will hear arguments on Johns Hopkins University’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Tim Newell, Banks’ nephew and the lead released the following statement:

My family and I are confident that the Judge will reject Johns Hopkins’ motion to dismiss when he hears the merits of our case. The University’s controversial new development plan for Belward Farm clearly violates the use restrictions put in place when my family transferred ownership of the farm to the University. We look forward to the case moving forward toward a successful conclusion.

Once again, this appears a case in which an individual clearly designated the disposition and future use of specific assets via what was believed to be a binding legal document yet those who agreed to said terms now resist honoring that document.  This case mirrors Involuntary Redistribution of Assets actions involving estate planning documents (wills, trusts, guardianships, powers of attorey).    How?  Simply put, today’s legal climate allows documents theoretically designed to protect assets and ensure distribution as per designated instructions to instead be used (or challenged) so as to create a scenario which can disregard a decedent’s final wishes and deny beneficial interests to rightful heirs or other designated beneficiaries.

This case is about the honoring of Elizabeth Beall Banks’ final wishes, but it should serve as a cautionary tale to all Americans who value property rights.  We live in a world with a legal system that fosters an “up for grabs” attitude with regard to people’s lifelong accumulation of assets.  A disgruntled family member, wannabe heir, unscrupulous attorney – or now, a local university can participate in such actions.

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome of this hearing.

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  • http://www.scale-it-back.com/ Donna Baron

    The residents who live near Belward Farm have spent four years opposing Johns Hopkins’ massive development proposed for Belward Farm. We knew Elizabeth Banks and we know that Hopkins’ plans are in violation of her intentions for her farm.
    For more information on this sad situation:
    http://northpotomac.patch.com/blog_posts/elizabeth-banks-intentions-for-belward-farm
    Our website with documents as well as articles about the lawsuit is:
    http://www.scale-it-back.com/documents-BelwardFarm-JohnsHopkins-lawsuit.html
    There are some great photos of this beautiful Civil War-era farm on the website as well.

  • Estate of Denial

    Thank you, Donna, for sharing these sites. We absolutely agree that it is egregious for this university to so knowingly and openly be prepared to dishonor Elizabeth Banks’ wishes. This case should serve as a warning to anyone considering entry into any similarly-structured conditional agreement with regard to their final distribution and use of assets.

  • http://www.scale-it-back.com/ Donna Baron

    I have one clarification on the following sentence from your article:
    “With university development plans now including a 4.7 million-square-foot campus and science park on the property, heirs are crying foul.”
    Johns Hopkins plans to offer ground leases on Belward Farm. They have not committed to occupy any of the buildings on the farm. According to their Preliminary Plan, if they have their way, Belward Farm will be an urban-style high-rise commercial complex with buildings up to 150 feet or 14 stories high for 15,000 people.
    The bucolic Civil War-era farmstead that Ms. Banks spent her life tending will be dwarfed and overwhelmed. The rolling contours of the property will be graded flat for construction.
    Hopkins insisted, early on, that the concept of a campus and science park is outdated and not what they planned to build on Belward Farm. They want urban-style height and density so they can make lots of money.

  • http://www.scale-it-back.com/ Donna Baron

    I have one clarification on the following sentence from your article:
    “With university development plans now including a 4.7 million-square-foot campus and science park on the property, heirs are crying foul.”
    Johns Hopkins plans to offer ground leases on Belward Farm. They have not committed to occupy any of the buildings on the farm. According to their Preliminary Plan, if they have their way, Belward Farm will be an urban-style high-rise commercial complex with buildings up to 150 feet or 14 stories high for 15,000 people.
    The bucolic Civil War-era farmstead that Ms. Banks spent her life tending will be dwarfed and overwhelmed. The rolling contours of the property will be graded flat for construction.
    Hopkins insisted, early on, that the concept of a campus and science park is outdated and not what they planned to build on Belward Farm. They want urban-style height and density so they can make lots of money.

  • http://www.scale-it-back.com/ Donna Baron

    I have one clarification on the following sentence from your article:
    “With university development plans now including a 4.7 million-square-foot campus and science park on the property, heirs are crying foul.”
    Johns Hopkins plans to offer ground leases on Belward Farm. They have not committed to occupy any of the buildings on the farm. According to their Preliminary Plan, if they have their way, Belward Farm will be an urban-style high-rise commercial complex with buildings up to 150 feet or 14 stories high for 15,000 people.
    The bucolic Civil War-era farmstead that Ms. Banks spent her life tending will be dwarfed and overwhelmed. The rolling contours of the property will be graded flat for construction.
    Hopkins insisted, early on, that the concept of a campus and science park is outdated and not what they planned to build on Belward Farm. They want urban-style height and density so they can make lots of money.