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Heir To Former Belward Farm Owner Excited For Progress In Hopkins Case

Tim Newell is excited for the opportunity to proceed with the case on his aunt's farm after a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge denied Johns Hopkins University's motion to dismiss.

When Tim Newell first received word of a he couldn’t wait to share the news. 

“[The community] is pretty thrilled,” Newell told Patch. “Everybody’s been more or less ‘it’s about time that someone listened.’ If you talk to the county and everybody else it’s always been sided towards having this project done no matter what the issues are and here we finally feel some indication that somebody listened.”

On Friday, March 11, Judge Katherine D. Savage issued a 24-page decision denying a , the lead plaintiff for the heirs to former Belward Farm owner Elizabeth Banks, with the intent of .

on the farm.

Savage noted the dramatic increase in Johns Hopkins’ scale of the project were cause for concern.

“The Court finds that the progression in the scale of development from 1990, through 1997 and cumulating in the 2011 Plan presents a controversy ripe for adjudication,” Savage wrote. “Without reaching the merits of the case, the Court finds that a conflict indicating imminent and inevitable litigation exists.” 

University Spokeswoman Robin Ferrier told Patch late Monday that while Hopkins is disappointed in Judge Savage’s ruling, it does not reflect the entirety of the case.

“Friday's ruling was on a preliminary motion and is not dispositive of the case at all,” Ferrier wrote in an email. “We are disappointed that the judge could not rule at this time that the contract and deed are unambiguous and do not restrict height, scale or density and do not prevent the university from leasing to outside tenants. We are confident, however, that the court will come to that conclusion as the case continues.”

Newell however praised the judge for taking her time in issuing her decision, noting that she would have been vilified by the community for granting the motion and potentially vilified by Hopkins, the county, and the state for ruling against the university.

on JHU’s motion to dismiss.

“She was in a difficult situation and I could sense as time went on, I really understood why she took her time doing this,” Newell said. “She wanted to make sure she got it right. She gave it a lot of detail and thoughtful consideration and I’m very grateful for that.”

Hopkins now has 15 days to respond to the original complaint before the court sets up a schedule for completion of a discovery period and other events in the case, Newell’s attorney David Brown said, adding it’s a process that will likely take months to complete.

The discovery period allows both sides to request documents relating to the 1989 agreement and request depositions from people involved. Brown said he believes there are still some people who remain employed by the university who were involved in the case.

One key witness not currently employed by Hopkins is John Dearden. . Brown said despite his status as a former employee he would still contact Dearden through deposition. He also said he’s intrigued by Hopkins’ record of the deal.

“One of the things we’ll be looking for in discovery is hopefully a more complete set of records in Hopkins’ files regarding the events in 1988 and 1989 that led to the agreement because, frankly, Mrs. Banks did not have much of a file and the lawyer she had is dead,” Brown said, adding, “I don’t think his records are at all accessible to us.”

Mike March 14, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I don't get why people are so thrilled that thousands of high paying jobs and the resulting tax revenue will possibly be halted? I thought MoCo needed more jobs like this?
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) March 14, 2012 at 08:43 PM
There is enough capacity left from the previous master plan and the additional capacity in stage 1 to add over 17,000 jobs and 5,000 residences to the Science City area today. There are currently about 20,000 people working there now so the workforce could almost be doubled. Housing is not included in the staging requirements. So nothing is being halted. Hopkins has approval for a 1.4 million square foot academic/research campus which would accommodate about 5,000 people on Belward Farm. But Hopkins wants to build a high-rise commercial office complex for over 15,000 people on his historic farm that is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods and is five miles from the nearest Metro station. Hopkins is offering ground leases for the property and they have not committed to occupy any of the buildings on the farm. We are asking that Johns Hopkins honor the promises they made to Elizabeth Banks. They were able to buy Belward Farm for one-tenth of its value based on promises they made to Ms. Banks. She was willing to take the lower price in order to have her wish for a small academic/research campus on her farm. For a map of the Science City area, see www.scale-it-back.com
Maria Fusco March 16, 2012 at 12:26 AM
To Mike: People are thrilled w/the possibility of Johns Hopkins respecting the donor's, Mrs. Banks, wishes; and I am one of them. It was a generous gift (beyond generous) and she fought all her life to limit commercialism of her property. Apparently Hopkins knew this as they had one set of plans, that she agreed to while alive; and then they changed those plans after her death. I believe that all those who are "thrilled" (as you note) is because people "want" to keep the faith in good and honesty. I hope that Hopkins respects Mrs. Banks gift, and upholds the agreement that all agreed to while she was alive.
Mike March 16, 2012 at 02:08 PM
I looked at the scale-it-back.com website and seems pretty biased against Hopkins Belward Development. The wording and numbers that are presented are kind of misleading and it makes it sound like Hopkins is developing the whole Seneca Valley Science corridor. I don't think their plans are develop something the size of "4 pentagons"
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) March 16, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Mike, the initial comparisons said "The proposed “Science City” will have 20 million square feet of commercial space and 9 million square feet of residential space on 922 acres. At 29 million square feet, it would be the size of 4.4 Pentagons." The final plan was a so-called "compromise" by lowering the full build-out of commercial space to 17.5 million sq ft. or about 4 Pentagons when you add in the 9,000 housing units. The main problem with Johns Hopkins' plan is the fact that they courted Elizabeth Banks for years before she agreed to sell her 107 acre Belward Farm to them for the gift price of $5 million instead of its value of $54 million because she wanted to have a satellite campus of Johns Hopkins on her farm--NOT a commercial office complex. In 1997 Ms. Banks, her family and Hopkins' developed a plan for a campus with 1.4 million sq ft for about 5,000 people. Ms. Banks died in 2005. Then in 2008, Hopkins proposed 6.5 million sq ft of commercial space on Belward Farm for about 20,000 people. The Planning Board reduced that to 4.6 million sq ft to accommodate a high-rise COMMERCIAL OFFICE COMPLEX for 15,000 people. They are essentially ripping off the family and the memory of Elizabeth Banks for $49 million. And, more importantly, Hopkins has no intention honoring Ms. Banks' wish for a satellite campus on Belward Farm or occupying any of the buildings on the farm. It is simply a money-making real estate venture.

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