Rather than sell it to the highest bidder, her heirs said, she sold it to Johns Hopkins University — a suitor she believed would protect the farm where she raised Black Angus cattle from the development she detested.
Now, nearly seven years after her death, her family and the university are at odds over what is to be built on the remaining 108-acre parcel, nestled in the midst of the county’s booming research corridor along Interstate 270.
Banks’s heirs have sued to block the university’s plan to build a 4.7 million-square-foot research and development campus, saying that it violates the terms of the contract signed with their aunt in 1989. Johns Hopkins officials maintain that the plans are in keeping with the agreement. The two sides are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday. Hopkins is asking a judge to either dismiss the suit or to grant summary judgment.
“We’re very confident our approach is consistent with our obligations, [and] also with [Montgomery County’s] strategy for the future,” said Hopkins spokeswoman Robin Ferrier.
Johns Hopkins University purchased the property from Banks in 1989 for $5 million — a fraction of its $54 million market value, the suit says. It took university officials two years to convince Banks to sell. Her family contends that she agreed only because she believed that the university intended to build a satellite campus on the bucolic property, a project that Banks, a former Montgomery County teacher, endorsed.
“It wasn’t about the money,” said Tim Newell, Banks’s nephew, who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This was about leaving a legacy for the family, protecting the property and doing a good thing for a very good university.”
David Brown, the family’s attorney, concedes the deed that conveyed the property, a simple, two-page document, did not specify that a satellite campus be constructed on the property. The language in the deed says only that the land’s use must be limited to “. . . agricultural, academic, research and development, delivery of health and medical care and services or related purposes only.”
But he argues that the university’s subsequent actions — having the property rezoned for development, combined with the preliminary plan it submitted to the county in 1997 — eliminated any question of the parties’ intentions for the property. Those plans called for 17 two- to four-story buildings, a total of about 1.4 million square feet.
“In our view, any uncertainty of what was intended was resolved by the  plan,” Brown said. “There’s no way that any such tripling of the density of the property was [contemplated by] the parties.”