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Locals Voice Displeasure With Hopkins' Plan for Belward

North Potomac residents say Hopkins never planned to honor the wishes of Elizabeth Banks for Belward Farm.

As Johns Hopkins University and the heirs to the former owner's Belward Farm estate continue to battle over plans to develop a 4.6 million square foot “Science City” on the property, members of the community surrounding the farm continue to voice their displeasure with the university’s plans.

In 2009, North Potomac resident Donna Baron started Scale-It-Back.com, a website advocating the reduction of JHU’s plans to develop Belward Farm.

Since then, Baron’s site has accumulated nearly 500 followers who have asked to be updated on Belward on a regular basis, she said, adding all of whom are against the university’s current plans.

One of Baron’s biggest problems with Hopkins’ plans to build a commercialized “Science City” dates back to how the contract was written, she said.

“Instead of writing a proper contract, they (JHU) wrote a contract with huge loopholes,” Baron told Patch. “So it was almost malice aforethought here that they wrote this contract that almost gives them the legal right to build anything on Belward Farm.”

The university originally agreed in 1989 to build a low-rise academic campus no larger than 1.4 million square feet of gross floor area.

But that appears to have never been the plan, Baron said.

“Everything was cool until Mrs. Banks died,” she said. “That’s when they (JHU) announced, ‘oh well, by the way, we’re building 4.6 to 6.5 million square feet and buildings up to 150 feet tall.’ Where did that come from? That didn’t just occur to them. They had been planning that for years."

Bragi Valgeirsson, a North Potomac resident and Scale-It-Back.com follower, echoed Baron’s sentiments.

“They (JHU) worked them (Belward) I think, Valgeirsson said. “It’s pretty peculiar to look at the fact that the plan that was done originally back in 1996 I think, they never made any attempt to execute that plan.

“[Hopkins] just waited until Mrs. Banks passed away and then they came back with a totally different plan and not at all like the first plan they proposed.”

That, however, is not the case, Johns Hopkins University spokeswoman Robin Ferrier said.

“Mrs. Banks and her relatives were represented by a well-respected real estate lawyer of their own choosing during the negotiations that led to the transfer of the property to Johns Hopkins,” Ferrier said. “As we have said, we have an obligation to abide by the terms of the deed that Mrs. Banks and her relatives signed after those negotiations. We have every intention of doing so.”

In late December, former JHU fundraising official John Dearden – who spearheaded the Belward Farm donation – pledged his support to Tim Newell and the rest of the donor family’s lawsuit against the university

Dearden said he believed Elizabeth Banks – Belward’s former owner – would not have endorsed the plans for a “Science City” instead of a small campus. 

As the legal process continues to unfold between Belward’s former owner's heirs and JHU, North Potomac Citizens Association president Dan Drazan said he is looking forward to the situation coming to an end.

“We look forward to working with Johns Hopkins, when it’s appropriate,” Drazan said, “to see if we can fine tune their plans to make them more compatible with the needs of the community and the traffic concerns that we’ll have.”

art slesinger January 13, 2012 at 02:26 PM
ANd now it appears that MoCo agreed to suppprt JHU in exchange for the 35 acre parcel deed to them by JHU from the Bank's property. So the lengthy master plan lublic hearings were a farce, the County had already sdhaken hands with the devil and the citizens got a shadow play for a master plan process!
jnrentz1 January 13, 2012 at 03:14 PM
This is business as usual in Montgomery County which never met a developer they did not like. Good fortune to Scale-It-Back.
Jeff Hawkins January 13, 2012 at 07:14 PM
It's always troubling to see things like this happen. I wish they could have just kept the farm as it was in the first place. That's progress I suppose? Slowly but surely everything that we once knew will be gone, including us :) As for the business side of this........well JHU is no different than any other outfit.........wonderful reputation and all.
Matt Markowitz January 13, 2012 at 08:47 PM
That farm is right across the street from where I used to live a few years ago. Traffic was already congested enough. I hope they make sure the all of the infrastructure is in place before constructing the first buildings of the "Science City."
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 13, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Art Slesinger brings up just one of the troubling aspects of this massive project that appeared to be a done deal from the beginning. Belward Farm was originally two parts: Parcel A is the part on Key West Avenue that is an office/industrial park. Parcel B is the part we know as Belward Farm. It was agreed that Johns Hopkins could develop Parcel A in order to raise money to build the campus on Parcel B (the farm) which aligned with the intentions of the donor, Elizabeth Banks. However, Johns Hopkins gave Parcel A to the County in exchange for the County’s support in developing Parcel B even though Hopkins already had a Preliminary Plan approved for a 1.4 million square foot medical/academic campus for Parcel B, the farm. In 2008, after Ms. Bank passed away, Johns Hopkins announced that they would build a 4.6 million to 6.5 million square foot commercial complex for 15,000 to 20,000 people in buildings 12 to 15 stories high on Belward Farm. The master plan was "expedited" by the County and was approved in 2010. And Johns Hopkins’ has a new Preliminary Plan for a 4.7 million square foot commercial complex for 15,000 people in buildings up to 15 stories high for Belward Farm, despite the objections of the community, the environmental organizations and the smart growth advocates. It was a done deal, indeed.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 13, 2012 at 09:53 PM
The promised infrastructure is nothing to look forward to. The Great Seneca Science Corridor approved 17.5 million square feet of commercial space plus thousands of housing units which could bring up to 70,000 newcomers to the area. The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) is touted as the magic carpet that will carry everyone in and out of the area. However, the CCT is only expected to carry 12% to 15% of the newcomers leaving 85% or tens of thousands of new drivers on the roads. In order to accommodate the tens of thousands of new workers and residents who will not be on the CCT, the County is proposing to widen Key West Avenue to 8 lanes, Muddy Branch and Great Seneca to 6 lanes with up to six multilevel highway interchanges which will range in size from 12 to 16 lanes.
jnrentz1 January 13, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Ms. Baron, I wish you the best in your effort to stem the tide of the ruination of the Belward Farm.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 16, 2012 at 06:19 PM
One other point... Johns Hopkins is being sued for breach of donor intent. When you read Hopkins' reply, notice there is no mention of "donor intent". Why? Because everyone knows that the plan proposed by Johns Hopkins for Belward Farm is absolutely NOT what Ms. Banks intended for her farm. Bottom line...Ms. Banks trusted the people at Johns Hopkins to carry out her wishes in exchange for her generous gift and they have betrayed her.
Theresa Defino January 16, 2012 at 07:13 PM
How has the city of Rockville been involved in the development of this project? And what exactly does "scale-it-back" want to see occur?
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 16, 2012 at 08:03 PM
The Cites of Rockville and Gaithersburg were opposed to the scale of the development proposed by the master plan during the master plan process. The master plan was approved by the County Council with fake reductions in scale. Rockville is monitoring the traffic impacts on Rockville from the development in the Science City. In 1997, Johns Hopkins, Elizabeth Banks and her family agreed to a "modest low-rise academic campus of no more than 1.4 million square feet". Hopkins waited for Ms. Banks to die and proposed a 4.6 million to 6.5 million sq ft high-rise commercial complex with buildings up to 150 ft high for 15,000 to 20,000 people. The County set the maximum development on Belward Farm at 4.6 million sq ft in the master plan. The residents represented by Scale-it-back oppose the scale of the proposed development, particularly on Belward Farm. Now that the heirs of Elizabeth Banks are suing Johns Hopkins for breach of donor intent, there is hope that Hopkins will relent and do the right thing....long shot but there is hope. We want Johns Hopkins to honor Ms. Banks intentions for Belward Farm.
Theresa Defino January 16, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Mayor Marcuccio is on some kind of steering commitee, I thought she said during a campaign event. Perhaps she can exert some influence beyond "monitoring. Passivity is unlikely to cause any change.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 16, 2012 at 09:07 PM
David Levy from Rockville is on the Implementation Committee with the Planning Board staff, some residents and the developers. We sit and listen to what the developers are going to do. The committee has no power to effect change.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 16, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Unfortunately, as others have noted, in Montgomery County the developers are driving the bus.
Theresa Defino January 16, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I don't buy that overall. And in this case, what I hear is that Hopkins is driving this. Not a developer.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 16, 2012 at 10:04 PM
You are absolutely right, I should have been more clear about this. Johns Hopkins is driving this...Johns Hopkins Real Estate is nothing but a 900 lb gorilla of a developer. The whole Gaithersburg West (Great Seneca Science Corridor) Master Plan was contrived for Johns Hopkins Real Estate. The so-called "Science City" was the brain-child of Johns Hopkins Real Estate. They originally wanted to replicate the Biopolis in Singapore on Belward Farm...even though the farm is five miles from the nearest Metro station and is surrounded on three sides by established residential suburban neighborhoods.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 16, 2012 at 10:15 PM
One other point...Johns Hopkins University has not commited to occupy any of the buildings on Belward Farm. Johns Hopkins Real Estate is offering ground leases for the property. If they are successful, Belward Farm will be a high-rise commercial complex for 15,000 people in buildings up to 150 feet tall. Johns Hopkins Real Estate put out flyers with a bucolic campus with lots of trees and little pointy brick buildings to show everyone what the property would look like but who says the companies who take them up on a ground lease would want to build little pointy brick buildings for their organization. It is all a HUGE farce.
jnrentz1 January 17, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Donna Baron: I and others hear you, and have had too much experience with the over development of Montgomery County. Both our roads and neighborhoods are over developed. This is suprisingly similar to the rape of the lands that make up the Grosvenor Estate in Bethesda. Hang tough, you can prevail against the wholesale over developement that is, and has been going on in Montgomery County. Save Belward Farm. All concerned should support: Scale-it-back.com
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 17, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Thanks jnrentz1! The residents represented by scale-it-back.com have been bombarding Johns Hopkins and the County officials for over 4 years trying to get the scale of the development reduced. We have repeatedly said we support the reasonable expansion of the hospital and the biotechs. And we support Elizabeth Banks and her family's intentions for Belward Farm...a minimally intrusive academic or medical campus that is no larger than 1.4 million square feet. The officials at Hopkins agreed to this and they should have the integrity to keep their word. Over 500 residents attended two nights of County Council hearings on the master plan and we were very clear in our opposition to the massive amount of development proposed by the Gaithersburg West (Great Seneca Science Corridor) Master Plan. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, Johns Hopkins and the County officials have turned a deaf ear to our concerns.
Theresa Defino January 17, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Where do things stand now? What is the best way citizens can get involved and advocate for a smaller footprint? It would appear this may not be on a reversible course at this time, except if the suit is successful.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) January 17, 2012 at 01:37 PM
There is a hearing scheduled for February 1 but there is always the hope that the current officials at Johns Hopkins will have a moment of integrity and admit that their plans for Belward Farm are misguided and not in line with the intentions of Elizabeth Banks. Ms. Banks' nephew, Tim Newell, wrote that John Dearden, who worked for 12 years at JHU and served as its Director of Sponsored Projects at the time the farm was donated to the university, said he is in strong support of the family’s efforts because he “spent several years of my professional life working on [the gift]” and he is positive the university “understood the intent” of the donor was to create a “sort of version of [JHU’s] Homewood campus,” not a high-rise commercial development that is part of Montgomery County’s “Science City.” Elaine Amir, Director of the Montgomery County Campus of Johns Hopkins, befriended Ms. Banks and knows that the current plans are not at all what Ms. Banks would have wanted. The officials at Johns Hopkins KNOW that they are violating the intent of the donor, Elizabeth Banks, but they appear to be quite comfortable in their position on this. If anyone has any suggestions on anything further we can do to reverse the course of this deplorable situation, we would love to hear them.

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