Hopkins wins dispute over Germantown farm

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Photo - Belward Farm (Examiner file photo)
Belward Farm (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

A judge ruled Thursday in favor of Johns Hopkins University in a years-long dispute over land slated to be used for a "Science City" in Germantown.

The university has been embattled with the family of Elizabeth Beall Banks, who sold the university her Belward Farm in 1989.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin ruled that Johns Hopkins could lease out portions of Belward Farm. Banks' family had argued the university was leasing too much of the farm and not using it for its original intent as a space for the university to establish a research facility.

Nephew Tim Newell, who filed the suit to stop the Hopkins development, said he would appeal.

The 108 acres is undeveloped and is part of the county's $10 billion "Science City" development.

David Brown, a lawyer representing Banks' family, argued that the space was clearly intended for Johns Hopkins' use, not to be parceled out for nonacademic interests.

He said at the time of sale, and the years following, the university indicated a majority of the space would be used for the institution to erect a research facility, as Banks wanted.

James H. Hulme, an attorney for the school, said in the deed and the contract for the property there was no distinction of whether the university could act as a landlord and that it was not in violation of contractual language or intent.

He said Banks never objected to the language or questioned it.

The family argued that there was ambiguity surrounding the language; Hulme said there was none.

"Obviously, with any language you get two creative lawyers in the room and you're going to have arguments that there are two meanings there," he said. "But that doesn't mean ambiguity."

The judge agreed. He ruled the words in both the deed and contract were clear -- therefore, the university wasn't subject to restricted use.

Johns Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea said the school always will be appreciative of Banks' contribution to the university and that the school looks forward to developing the property.

After the hearing, upset family members and neighbors said Banks intended for her farm to be used only for academic purposes.

In fact, she asked Newell to make sure it wasn't used for other things after she died, he said.

"The intent was very clear and very well-understood by all parties," Newell said. "They hired very big guns -- this is a David and Goliath case.

"But today we didn't [win]. But maybe tomorrow we will."

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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