Johns Hopkins University has fired back with legal action of its own in response to a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 by the heirs of the former owners of Belward Farm that asks Johns Hopkins University be forced to stop plans to build a 4.7 million-square-foot commercial science park on the property.
JHU filed a Motion to Dismiss or For Summary Judgment on Monday, Dec. 19, intending to dismiss the donor intent lawsuit by the heirs of Belward Farm.
“Twenty years later, plaintiffs as the successors to the former owners seek a broad declaratory judgment barring Johns Hopkins from developing its property in accordance with the express and unambiguous language of the contract and deed.
“However, because the complaint is largely premised on conceptual plans that may well change before being implemented, the bulk of plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment complaint fails ‘to allege facts ripe for adjudication and thus fail[s] to establish a justiciable controversy,’” the motion states.
Shortly after the motion was filed, former JHU fundraising official John Dearden – who spearheaded the Belward Farm donation – announced his support for the donor family’s lawsuit.
Dearden said he is in strong support of the family’s efforts because he “spent several years of [his] professional life working on [the gift],” according to a press release.
“[Dearden] is positive the University ‘understood the intent’ of the donor was to create a ‘version of [JHU’s] Homewood campus,’ not a high-rise commercial complex that is part of Montgomery County’s ‘Science City,’” the release states.
According to the release, Dearden was asked if he thought Elizabeth Banks – the owner of Belward Farm at the time of the original agreement – would have gifted the property to JHU if she knew the plans for a “Science City” instead of a small campus.
“In my opinion, no … strongly, she would not have endorsed that, she would not have made the gift if she had known they would not respect her intent,” Dearden said.
In response to Dearden’s comments, JHU Montgomery County campus spokeswoman Robin Ferrier said the issues were made clear in the original agreement.
“Miss Banks and her co-owners, relatives Roland Banks and Beulah Newell, expressed their desires about the future of the property and Johns Hopkins’ obligations in the contract of sale and the deed,” Ferrier wrote in an email.
Ferrier said she is unsure of a timeline for the motion to be decided, but the plaintiffs will have an opportunity to file a response to JHU's motion.
Banks sold the property to the university in 1989 for $5 million. The difference between the farm’s $50 million value and its sale price was considered a donation to JHU with the understanding that the university would own and operate the land under the aforementioned agreement.
Since then, the university has released plans to build a 4.7 million square foot commercial science park on the property.