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If you ask Johns Hopkins, farm's future lies in 18 little words

It took a few years for Johns Hopkins University to decide what to do with Belward Farm, the Montgomery County property sold to the university in 1989. When Hopkins revealed the preliminary plans, the family of the woman who sold the farm objected. Elizabeth Beall Banks' nephew claims the development is not in line with his aunt's wishes.

The difference between a sale and a charitable donation are at the heart of the Banks family's arguments, while Hopkins argues that the whole thing boils down to 18 words in the contract for sale. Last week, a Maryland court heard arguments for summary judgment from both sides, so the matter could be settled before Thanksgiving.

The university has not actually possessed the 108-acre property since 1989. Banks lived there until her death in 2005. But she had specific ideas of how the farm should be used, and she included that in the terms of the sale. Hopkins was to use the land "for agricultural, academic, research and development, delivery of health and medical care and services, or related purposes only" -- the 18 words referred to in the university's argument.

If all goes as the university plans, the farm will be home to a 4.7 million-square-foot commercial science park. The "commercial" means that the university will rent space in the park to other businesses.

That proposal is not at all what Banks intended, according to her family. The parties agreed that Hopkins would build a low-rise academic campus, just one quarter the size of the announced science center. Banks donated the property to Hopkins to see that plan and only that plan carried out.

Donated? We'll explain in our next post.

Source: Gaithersburg Patch, "Judge to Weigh Resolution of Long Dispute Over Belward Farm," Greg Cohen, Oct. 24, 2012

We help clients with commercial real estate disputes like the one discussed in this post. If you would like to know more about our Annapolis, Maryland, practice, please visit the real estate litigation page of our website.

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