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Judge Rules in Favor of Johns Hopkins in Dispute Over Farmland’s Use

(Updated on 10/29/2012 to note the family’s intent to appeal.)

A state judge in Montgomery County, Md., has ruled against a family who sued the Johns Hopkins University, seeking to block it from developing land that the family had sold to Hopkins in an effort to preserve it from rampant development.

Elizabeth Banks sold her Belward Farm to Johns Hopkins in 1988 at a tenth of the land’s value, with the understanding that the land would be used to build a campus. But the family of Ms. Banks, who died in 2005, says Hopkins’s current plan for 4.7 million square feet of development defies what she had intended. Her family was supported by neighbors, who were concerned about the traffic that the increased development might bring and offended by what they saw as the university’s disregard for Ms. Banks’s intentions.

The university maintained that the deed did not bar the planned development. Officials in Montgomery County, where there are other disputes over carving up farmland, had generally supported the university.

Both the university and the family had filed for summary judgment this year. In recent weeks, the family released statements accusing the university of characterizing Ms. Banks’s gift “not as a charitable donation, but rather as an arm’s-length real-estate sale.”

After the judgment in favor of the university, on Friday afternoon, Johns Hopkins released a statement saying that it was reviewing the decision and pushing ahead with the development. “We will proceed in a responsible manner, in consultation with the community and in support of Montgomery County’s vision for its economic development,” the statement said. “Johns Hopkins is, and always will be, grateful to Miss Banks and her relatives for the gift of their property. We have lived up to, and will always live up to, our agreement with them.”

The family announced on Monday that it would appeal. It called the ruling “an insult to the generosity of my family, ignores the history and facts of this case, and threatens the rights of donors everywhere.”

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