Court sides with Hopkins in Montgomery County land dispute

Donor's family says she would have opposed research park plans

November 22, 2013|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

Johns Hopkins University won another legal victory Thursday in its attempt to build a research park on farmland previously owned by a woman whose family sued the school, saying she would have opposed the development.

A three-judge panel of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed a Montgomery County Circuit Court's decision that Hopkins's plan to develop the 138-acre Belward Farm complied with the agreement made with Elizabeth Banks in 1989. Banks had sold the land, which had been in her family for more than 100 years, to Hopkins for $5 million, a fraction of its market value.

But Tim Newell, Banks' nephew and the lead plaintiff in his family's donor-intent lawsuit, vowed to take the legal fight to the state's highest bench, the Maryland Court of Appeals. Banks, who was famous for opposing development in Montgomery County, would never have given it to Hopkins if she knew it would "create a commercial mega-development of nearly five million square feet," Newell said in a prepared statement.

"This case is about the misuse of a generous charitable gift made by my aunt, a woman of modest means, to one of the nation's wealthiest universities," Newell said in a statement.

"The university's horrible breach of 'donor intent' and the Court's failure to hold it accountable for that breach is sure to send a chilling signal to all charitable donors in Maryland and throughout the nation that nonprofits can accept a gift for a specific purpose, and then thumb their nose at the donor and use it for another," he said.

Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea said in a statement that the university is "grateful" to Banks and her family, "as we have always been." He said Hopkins is gratified by the court decision.

"The university remains steadfast in its determination to develop the Belward Research Campus for the benefit of Montgomery County and in full compliance with its obligations under its agreement with Elizabeth Banks and her siblings," he said.

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