Family Angered by Plan to Develop Property

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009; 10:55 AM

Belward, one of the last large pieces of undeveloped land in Montgomery County, is a key element of Johns Hopkins University's proposed science city.

But the family that sold Hopkins the land is dismayed by the current proposal, which holds the possibility of taller, more densely packed buildings on the property that might include research facilities, some retail and public, open space.

Just minutes from Interstate 270 and ringed by suburbs and several large biosciences firms, the 138-acre property was sold to Hopkins by its owner, Elizabeth Banks, for $5 million two decades ago.

Banks's nephew Tim Newell said his aunt had offers of up to $54 million from developers for the property. But she chose to sell to Hopkins to keep it from suburban developers.

"We are not people of means," he said. "This is more important, to save the property. My aunt never married and did not have children. The farm was her life. She was so attached to it in every sense of the word," Newell said.

The deed said that after Banks's death, the land would be used for "agricultural, academic, research and development, delivery of health and medical care and services, or related purposes only."

University and county officials say they believe the current plans will create a world-class center like Palo Alto, or Research Triangle, where students, teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs and government officials can live and work, and create intellectual synergy that leads to scientific breakthroughs.

A 1997 plan from Hopkins outlined a proposal for three-story and four-story buildings that would be similar to the nearby Shady Grove Life Sciences Park, which is home to major biotech companies, including BioReliance and the Institute for Genomic Research.

"We were okay with that," Newell said. "It would have been a college campus."

David McDonough, who is spearheading the project for Hopkins, said the deed does not restrict design, architecture, height or density. "It only addresses 'uses,' " he said. The project "is fully compliant with the deed." Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson echoed that view. The board in July approved the master plan for the area.

Newell said he discussed the family's vision in a 2005 meeting with Hopkins officials, after his aunt died.

"I said we were thinking about something Jeffersonian, like the University of Virginia," he recalled recently. He said he was assured by Hopkins officials that the property would look like a college campus.

"The real irony here is the one my aunt turned to to protect the land from development has become the kind of developer my aunt was trying to protect against," Newell said.

The master plan is under review at the County Council. Depending on what happens next, Newell said, the family might consider legal action.

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