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.”