Belward Farm in Montgomery County. (Courtesy of Donna Baron)

Hopkins attorneys asked Montgomery County Circuit Court to dismiss a lawsuit levied against the university in November by the family of Elizabeth Beall Banks, an anti-development activist who raised her family on the 138-acre Gaithersburg farm and sold it to Hopkins for $5 million in 1989 when it was worth many times that.

The family says Hopkins, in ditching a much smaller development plan for the present one, is grossly violating the wishes of Banks, who died in 2005.

In its motion to dismiss the case , Hopkins said Monday that the agreement contains “no restrictions on Johns Hopkins’ right to lease its property to others, nor is there any restriction on the height, density or scale of the development.”

The university argues that the contract contains no restrictions on leasing parts of the property for other commercial uses, only that it may not sell it until 2039, or 50 years from the agreement, even if that means entering into 99-year ground leases for office buildings or apartment towers.

“The restrictions alleged by plaintiffs in their complaint are nowhere found in either the Contract or the Deed; thus, they do not exist as a matter of law,” the motion reads.

But the man who worked in central administration for Hopkins and negotiated the deal to acquire the farm says the family’s wishes amounted to more than that.

John Dearden says he worked for 12 years for Hopkins and served as director of research and sponsored projects when he left in 1991. He remembers the former county executive coming to him in the 1980s and mentioning the farm for the first time.

“At that time the Montgomery County executive was Charlie Gilchrist, and he and I were working on some things and he said ‘we have a woman who has some land and has some existing Hopkins ties and she might be a woman you would want to meet,’ ” Dearden said.

The woman was Banks, and Dearden says he worked closely with her over the next few years on a plan to build a Hopkins campus on the farm similar to its Homewood campus, in Baltimore. By 1997, the university and the family had agreed to a 1.4 million-square-foot plan for the farm.

Thereafter, however, the plans grew dramatically, into a core piece of Montgomery County’s initiative to build a “science city.”

Now retired and living in California, Dearden says the current plan runs afoul of what Banks wanted. “Based totally on what I know now, I think it has gone beyond her expectations,” he said.

In particular, Dearden said, Banks never wanted any residential units on the property. “She was pretty dead set against it being residential. She didn’t want residential. She said today’s housing developments were tomorrow’s slums,” he said.

He attributes the changes to new personnel at Hopkins. “When I left there had been changes at Hopkins in the administration, and there were people who were looking at it more as a commercial development,” he said.

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Hopkins plans 23 building and hundreds of residential units. Johns Hopkins said it s preliminary plan includes no proposals for housing, and the 23 buildings were part of a conceptual drawing, not a formal submission.