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Johns Hopkins sued over 'Science City' plans

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye
The family that donated the Gaithersburg farmland where Johns Hopkins University plans to build a "Science City" has filed a lawsuit against the university for breach of contract.

Former owner Elizabeth Banks was adamant that Belward Farm remain undeveloped, and she turned down offers worth upward of $54 million from developers who wanted to turn the land into residences, the legal documents detail. But when financial circumstances necessitated giving up the land in 1989, Banks relinquished all 138 acres to Johns Hopkins for $5 million with the condition that the 108-acre western portion "be developed and used only for academic purposes."

A few years after Banks' 2005 death, the university announced the proposed Science City. The biotech research and development corridor is expected to create 60,000 jobs.

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved the plan's latest version last month, though the university faces more approval requirements.

The development plan violates Johns Hopkins' agreement with the family, said Tim Newell, Banks' nephew and a spokesman for the family. "It's not for academic purposes. It's purely for Hopkins to turn a profit."

The university plans to build 23 buildings ranging from three to 13 stories tall, as well as enough parking for 12,320 vehicles, according to the application filed with the Planning Board. The university estimates that about half of the building space will be used as office space, about 40 percent will be dedicated to life sciences and 10 percent will be retail.

The plan also anticipates clearing about 25 acres of forest and leaving just under five acres of trees.

Johns Hopkins spokeswoman Tracey Reeves denied any breach of contract.

"Development will be, as the deed requires, limited to 'agricultural, academic, research and development, delivery of health and medical care and services, or related purposes only,' " she wrote in an email.

Although the plans may not seem directly related to the university's academic programming, they serve an educational purpose, said County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large and chairwoman of the County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. "Education is inextricably tied to research and development."

But Newell's family isn't interested in Hopkins' mission.

"I don't think cancer is going to be cured or not cured based on Belward Farm," he said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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