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Elizabeth Banks’ Intentions for Belward Farm

Elizabeth Banks, the late owner of Belward Farm, expressed her concerns about the future of her farm to her neighbors. She feared that Johns Hopkins would not honor her wishes.

For the past four years the community and the family of Elizabeth Banks, late owner of Belward Farm, have spoken out against Johns Hopkins’ proposed plans for Belward Farm.

According to Tim Newell, Elizabeth Banks’ nephew, “[Ms. Banks] and her siblings gifted her beloved 138-acre historic Belward Farm in Montgomery County to Johns Hopkins for a Johns Hopkins college campus.”

“Under the terms set forth at the time, the university agreed to use the property only for academic purposes, for university research and development, or for university health and medical care purposes.”

“Unfortunately,” according to Mr. Newell, ”instead of a university-operated campus, as my aunt expected, Hopkins plans to convert Belward Farm into a 4.7 million square foot, university-owned commercial real estate venture that would become the center of Montgomery County's planned ‘Science City.' The main goal of the development will not be education, research or medical care, but a profit making commercial enterprise for JHU." 

The family of Elizabeth Banks has filed suit against Johns Hopkins for breach of donor intent.

The officials at Johns Hopkins befriended Ms. Banks and spent years talking to her about her intentions for the farm. John Dearden, who spent several years of his professional career with Hopkins working on Ms. Banks’ gift, said he is positive the university understood Ms. Banks’ intentions for her farm.

Sadly, before she passed away, Ms. Banks confided her concerns to her neighbors.

Audrey Warren said Ms. Banks remarked that it killed her to see all the farms around her sold off and developed. She didn’t want that to happen to her farm.  She loved her farm. It was her life.

During a visit to Belward Farm to see the cows, Bruce Trauben and his daughter chatted with Ms. Banks. “She then looked across the street at the sprawling Stonebridge development, shook her head, and said, ‘I don't want what happened to the farm across the street to happen to my property.’" He said that his conversation with Ms. Banks gave him “hope that Belward Farm's open land would be preserved.” 

Ms. Banks told John Beltracchi, who worked at Belward Farm, that she didn’t want her farm built up in a mega-development but Mr. Beltracchi was concerned that Johns Hopkins would not keep their word.

Nadereh Kostoff visited with Ms. Banks, with whom she shared a background as an educator. Mrs. Kostoff said, “[Ms. Banks] talked about Johns Hopkins and how they had made her life most difficult and she was worried that they would not abide by the conditions of her donation.” 

“What I remember most clearly was her concern that Hopkins would not be following her wishes and what a shame that was.  She said she would continue to fight them for as long as she was alive.  She really didn’t want Hopkins to use her property for anything other than educational purposes.”

Diane Aronson remembers Ms. Banks very well. “The Elizabeth Banks of Belward Farm that I had the good fortune to know was a feisty woman who strongly opposed her land being using for housing or any commercial development.”

“To protect her property from undesirable development (housing and commercial establishments) she deeded Belward to John Hopkins University (JHU). The  purpose of the deed was to ensure that any buildings on Belward would be used strictly for education or research.”

“It is unconscionable that JHU -- the institution that Miss Banks trusted to carry out her wishes -- is seeking to violate the stipulations of the deed and change its intent to meet the University’s needs.”

As if to confirm Ms. Banks’ intentions for her farm, her obituary stated:  “Her love of the land led Ms. Banks and her family to sell Belward Farm at a gift price to Johns Hopkins University to ensure its development as a campus instead of a housing or commercial complex.”

Ms. Banks’ family knows her intentions. The community knows her intentions. The officials at Johns Hopkins know her intentions. But will the University respect Elizabeth Banks’ intentions for Belward Farm, or is money more important than honesty or integrity? 

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Jeff Hawkins January 26, 2012 at 07:11 PM
The whole thing is a truly sad and troubling situation. Lack of trust, greed and the all-mighty dollar rule the day.
Jan Fine January 26, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Loss of trust is a tragic consequence of the lack of civility that is so prevalent in our world - especially the local world over the fence. I have been lucky to be a neighbor of Belward Farm and luckier still to have the farm as my every day view from the rear of my house. Though Elizabeth Banks was not someone I knew well, I did know her from her pink hat and wave of a hand in greeting while she rode her tractor across the farm. I knew that she trusted in JHU to do the right thing with her gift sale of Belward Farm. And I know that she could not have counted on JHU to allow time gone by and change of regime to contribute to a loss of her original intent. I believe that Elizabeth Banks was from a generation that valued civility and honored an intended agreement. It is a true shame that JHU cannot stand by Mrs. Banks intent and do the right thing. It should not go without saying that the planners in Montgomery County contributed to this situation in a very strong way. The letter of the law, the word on the page - well, those count for something because they can be seen and interpreted. A face to face agreement with a handshake is the personal accompaniment to the contract that gets lost in the translation. That, I am afraid, is a consequence here. County planners were not directly involved with the original deal made. But they were responsible for the process that allowed for the situation that gave rise to the lawsuit.
Diana Edensword Conway January 27, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Wow. Why do county "leaders", elected or private-sector, think they can roll over us like this? The record is replete with confirmation of what Ms. Banks wanted when she made the gift-sale to JHU. She could have had TEN times the money if she'd wanted to pave it over. Question: Why do "leaders" do this? Answer: Because they don't think they'll be held accountable. SOLUTION? Change that! How? CALL Johns Hopkins; CALL County Exec Leggett; CALL the County Council; WRITE to the local papers with your anger on full display. It's time to start calling out elected and community 'leaders' like JHU, and stop this farcical pretense at meeting Ms. Banks' wishes. Dig in---the water's fine. Diana Conway
jnrentz1 January 27, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Another sad example of the greed, and total lack of concern that the developers have towards open land in already over crowded Montgomery County.
Temperance Blalock January 27, 2012 at 02:30 PM
A lot of people assume that educational institutions have more integrity, and loftier goals, than just making a profit. This is the perfect example of the nasty truth, which is that Johns Hopkins University is just as devious and greedy as the worst financial parasite.
Maria Fusco January 28, 2012 at 07:25 AM
Mrs. Banks clearly HAD a high regard for Johns Hopkins, as clear as her desire to preserve her land and to stop the future commercialization of it. Reading about Mrs. Banks gift brings to mind Mrs. Caughey's gift of Rockwood to the Girl Scouts of America: Does anyone respect the wishes of those leaving such gracious (and grand) gifts!? Actions like this teach us: 1. To think twice before "gifting" ANYTHING to large organizations/corporations, and 2. As Diana Conway noted above, to hold EVERYONE allowing this ... duplicity, this ... deceit... ACCOUNTABLE. Where is Johns Hopkins' integrity? Who is answering over there (that person's integrity)? What does s/he, or they, have to say? What are OUR elected officials doing to stop this Double-Dealing? ~ Maria Fusco
jnrentz1 January 28, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Ms. Fusco is absolutely correct in her observations. Hopefully, the movement, Scale-It-Back.com, will be able to continue as an effort to stop the over development of Montgomery County.
Joe Garner January 29, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Mrs. Banks was dedicated to education, and to Belward Farm. We, the people, didn’t know this when we moved to developments surrounding her farm 35 years ago. We, the people, came to know her from afar –working her farm, driving her tractor, standing in line at the food store. We admired her dedication to preserving this stately tribute to times past. Her love for Belward Farm was obvious and we, too, came to adopt Belward as part of our community. We followed her efforts to hold on to Belward in the face of escalating taxes – taxes arising from surrounding improvements that were none of her doing, that benefited us more than her. We celebrated her opposition to these levies and dreaded, with her, the option of selling out Belward to “the developers”. We rejoiced at the protest signs she posted and railed at the county that forced her to take them down. We admired her grit and cheered her as our American hero. We didn’t know her personally, but we sensed her inner character. We, the people, know what Mrs. Banks would not agree to. We, the people, don’t have to parse the legalese to know what her agreement with Johns Hopkins was. We know she did not agree to paving over Belward with the high-rises, streets, and railways that Hopkins pursues. We, the people, know her understanding of Belward’s future was smaller, greener, softer, more educationally oriented, and less commercial.
Lezlie Crosswhite January 30, 2012 at 11:45 PM
It's amazing to me that JHU is claiming that this commercial mega-development called "Science City" -- this 4.7 million square feet -- is in keeping with Mrs. Banks wishes and with the contract JHU signed. The poor woman was barely cold in her grave when JHU announced that they were changing their focus for Belward, from a academic campus of 1.4 million s.f. to something approaching the size of the Pentagon! Remember to attend the hearing on Feb. 1 -- let's hear what the judge has to say about the dismissing the Banks' family law suit.
Maria Fusco January 31, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Great! Thanks Donna ~ I was just getting ready to ask Lezlie address & time ~ Thx!
art slesinger January 31, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Perhaps we have also lost trust in MoCo government? It is rumored that JHU gave the smaller lot ~35 acres to MoCo in return for their support for what ever JHU wanted on the remainder of the Bank's property. If true, the Master Plan hearings were a farce and those of us who spent hours lobbying for a reasonable plan had been blind sided by this hiding of material facts. Art Slesinger
RosalindLacyMac January 31, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Thank you, Donna Baron. I have become a colleague in activism because of you. You are an inspiration. I have a masters' degree in English Lit, and have taught high school; but went back to Montgomery College and earned a degree in Legal Studies to educate myself to hold off the actions of another set of developers, based on corporate greed, from taking a swath of our private property for the private developer's gain; not for "public use," as defined under the Fifth Amendment; but for the developer's convenience. There appears to be not only no respect for civility, honor or accountability, but also no respect for private enjoyment of private property, the very basis of our freedom. I too have testified at Scale-It-Back public hearings. We are not against development. We are for reasonable development, for respect for the wishes of Elizabeth Banks. It appears the Scale-It-Bank hearings had no effect whatsoever.The voice of the people must be heard. Keep up your good work, Donna. Rosalind Lacy MacLennan Paralegal with a degree in Legal Studies from Montgomery College Courtyards-at-Rio on Fields Road Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878 Paralegal
Lynne Rose January 31, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I have had the privilege of living beside Belward Farm for almost 14 years. One day out of the blue about 9 years ago, I received a call from Elizabeth Banks. She told me she was reaching out to the Home Owner Associations of the neighborhoods surrounding the farms. She was asking for our help because she was very afraid that Johns Hopkins would ignore her wishes for a research campus and change the plans they had developed. She said that she was depending on us to make sure Johns Hopkins would stay true to their word after she was gone. I remember at the time that I naively said that I was sure that a fine institution like Johns Hopkins would never do that. Fast forward to 2012 and here we are—fighting the very thing that she was so very afraid of happening! It’s a sad situation for sure! I wish the Banks family the best of luck on Wednesday!
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 01, 2012 at 05:05 AM
The time for the hearing on Wednesday, Feb 1 has been changed to 1:30 at the Circuit Court in Rockville . The address is at 50 Maryland Avenue, 6th floor, Courtroom 14.
Gerry Burgess February 03, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Ms. Banks obituary records a request that memorial contributions be made to the American Farmland Trust. Clearly she loved that land and did not want Hopkins to build on it at a scale that maximizes their profit and as a consequence ignores her wishes. I have seen articles that state that Johns Hopkins got the land for 5 million dollars when it was worth at least ten times that. If they are going to disregard Ms.Banks wishes, then at least the honorable thing for them to do would be to pay the heirs and additional 45 million.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 03, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Ms. Banks trusted Johns Hopkins and I’m sure she thought the contract they wrote for her property in 1989 was sufficient since the officials at Hopkins understood her intentions for her property. They had courted her for years before she agreed to sell her beloved farm to them for a gift price. That was then. Now the officials at Hopkins feel that they can take advantage of the ambiguity in the contract to build exactly what she didn’t want on her farm…a huge money-making commercial complex. As if they paid full price ($54 million) for the property without restrictions. I wonder what would happen if the officials at Johns Hopkins were caught taking $49 million out of Ms. Banks account? Except, of course, Ms. Banks wouldn't have $49 million in her account because Hopkins only paid her $5 million for a property that was worth $54 million because she was willing to take the lower price in exchange for having her wishes carried out. The officials at Johns Hopkins are so arrogant they think they can have it both ways. The family is focused on having their Aunt Liz's wishes fulfilled. They are not asking for more money, other than legal fees.
Sharon February 03, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Kudos, Diana. Well said!!!!!!
Sharon February 03, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Joe, even more 'beautifully' and truthfully expressed!!!!!!
Temperance Blalock February 03, 2012 at 03:18 PM
In a very weird irony, I received an e-mail on my cellphone at the same time that I received notices of updates in this Patch thread. The e-mail was from Johns Hopkins (health alerts), and the subject line was "Protect your memory as you age". If only JHU had protected the memory of Elizabeth Banks' wishes for her generous gift to them.
Donna Baron (Scale-it-back.com) February 03, 2012 at 04:00 PM
It is a very sad situation. Ms. Banks worked so hard to protect her farm by "entrusting" it to Johns Hopkins. Trust is the key word here. She could not have known that Johns Hopkins could not be trusted. In 1989, when it was announced that Johns Hopkins would be the new owner of the farm, we thought they would do something wonderful with it. We knew they understood Ms. Banks' wishes for her farm because they had courted her for years and developed a personal relationship with her. Boy, were we sadly mistaken! Johns Hopkins is a voracious developer and an 800 pound gorilla..."a person or organization so powerful that it can act without regard to the rights of others."

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