Maryland court rules in favor of Johns Hopkins in Gaithersburg land dispute -- Gazette.Net


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Johns Hopkins University won a key judgement Thursday when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that the university’s plan to develop a 108-acre donated farm complies with a donor’s agreement with the school.

Johns Hopkins bought the 108-acre farm, known as the Belward Farm, from Elizabeth Banks in 1989 for $5 million, a fraction of the estimated $54 million value of the property, with the remainder to be considered a charitable donation. The farm is off of Muddy Branch Road and Md. 28.

In November 2011, Tim Newell, one of Banks’ relatives, sued Johns Hopkins University. He claimed the university was violating a land use agreement it made with Banks when she sold the land to the institution in 1989, believing it would be used for a low-density academic campus, according to the statement.

Johns Hopkins plans to build a 4.7 million-square-foot “science city” on the property which would be substantially larger than the 1.4 million square-foot complex that Newell says his great-aunt imagined.

On Thursday, the Court of Special Appeals’ three-judge panel ruled unanimously affirming a 2012 ruling by a Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin in favor of Johns Hopkins.

In its decision, the three-judge panel wrote “our task is to examine the agreement the parties did sign, not the agreement that one or the other now wishes they had negotiated instead.”

“We understand the Family’s frustration as they face the increasingly likely prospect that the Farm will transform into a campus that they believe Ms. Banks would never have countenanced,” the panel wrote.

University spokespeople said they were “gratified” by the ruling, and that they planned to develop the Belward Research Campus “in full compliance” with its obligations under its agreement with Banks and her siblings.

Newell, the lead plaintiff in the suit against Hopkins, said that the ruling had left him “extremely disappointed.”

He said the ruling erroneously considered the transaction between Banks and Johns Hopkins as a real estate transaction and not a charitable contribution.

“This is not about a simple arms-length real estate contract,” he said. “It’s about a 22-page agreement, that states this is a charitable contribution to Johns Hopkins University.”

“If it was a simple real estate transaction, we would have sold it for $54 million years ago,” he said.

His family planned to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals, he said.

sjbsmith@gazette.net