Tim Newell I take exception to your editorial “Hopkins Plan Fits with Spirit of Agreement” (Feb. 15). The piece reads like a page out of the Johns Hopkins University playbook on how to deceive a donor and make it seem like a noble gesture.
You write as if you actually knew Elizabeth Beall Banks, my aunt, and the intent of her generous gift to Hopkins, saying “she had her eye on the future.” The only thing she had her eye on was protecting Belward Farm, preserving its historic legacy, and stopping suburban sprawl from enveloping her beloved land.
The only thing we have our eye on with this lawsuit is Justice for my Aunt Liz. My Aunt entrusted Belward’s future to Hopkins and they have betrayed that trust.
Perhaps you are confused about the intention of my aunt’s gift, because you weren’t there in the late 80s when the agreement came to be. I was there and so were my uncle and mother who were part owners of the farm when it was donated to Hopkins. Three years ago when the University started this talk of building a “Science City” on the farm it was my mother and uncle who spearheaded the effort to stop it and have Hopkins honor the original agreement.
I find it insulting that you pretend to know the intention of this generous gift better than the donors themselves and the Hopkins officials who penned the document in 1989, one of whom has publicly come out in support of our efforts. Tim Newell, Elizabeth Beall Banks’ nephew, is lead plaintiff in John Timothy Newell, et. al. v. Johns Hopkins University.
Bragi Valgeirsson, Rockville: I read your opinion piece dated Feb15th, “Hopkins plan fits with spirit of agreement” and that conclusion is clearly wrong and is squarely at odds with all the evidence surrounding this case. Not even Johns Hopkins has tried to make the argument you put forth in your editorial and they have not been shy about using distortions and half-truths in trying to ram this development through the approval process or trying to win public support for it.
We don’t have to speculate about Ms. Banks wishes for her farm. We know from frequent comments she made about her growing discomfort that Hopkins was not living up to the agreement, towards the end of her life. We know that the point-person at JHU who worked with Ms. Banks, John Dearden, has stated the University was fully aware of her intentions and the 2009 plan does not fulfill her wishes or the promises made to her.
Your statement that the “The Hopkins plan would fit with the surrounding development” is just factually incorrect. The planning documents submitted call for road improvements that would cost well over two billion dollars just to have the area pass the minimum traffic standards. Those are the county’s own estimates. Even JHU concedes that the area would be radically altered with this development.
The argument this will be the “crown jewel” of life sciences research is not what JHU has in mind for the Belward farm. When a proposal was introduced in the county council to raise the minimum percentage of space devoted to research from 30% to 40%, JHU and its supporters within the county government fought that tooth and nail. Steve Silverman, our director of Economic Development, said “if the Council requires more than a 30% minimum of science-related jobs, the project will fail”. What an incredible statement to make and at the same time call it a “Science City”.
“These days, universities and private industry partners must have strong collaborations to bring ideas, such as lifesaving gene- based drug therapies, from the laboratory bench into the marketplace” has a fatal flaw. JHU has consistently refused to locate research/academic or any of its other function on Belward farm. Mike Knapp told opponents they were wrong about JHU’s intentions and attempted to prove it. This is what he came back with: No commitment from JHU to do anything on Belward. Instead, JHU agreed to send the county an annual report outlining all their activities in Montgomery County, including a list of all their courses they offer on their current campus!! Even Councilmember Knapp admitted he was disappointed and stated this is not what he hoped for. If you don’t believe that, I can forward you the agreement.
The arguments that “In a high-tech world, the sort of low-tech campus the heirs describe in their complaint simply wouldn’t be economically feasible nor would it serve a modern educational purpose” is simply a rehash of standard JHU talking points. Research is not a function of how many floors the building has. My neighbor Dr. Wang who works in Rockville developing a vaccine against malaria told me because of ventilation and safety requirement he and his colleagues would not be permitted to work in the 12-15 story towers JHU want to build.
The Banks family is not seeking money in their lawsuit; this is not attempt to get JHU to pay them off in return for being quiet. This family made an incredibly generous donation to a university it trusted. Johns Hopkins should respect and honor the Banks family for that and respect their wishes. Instead JHU hides behind a contract drafted by their high priced corporate lawyers, or empty promises that they will be the catalyst for a boom in scientific research in the county, when in truth this is nothing more than a profit-making real-estate development scheme. We can’t control how JHU wants to conducts itself. But at a minimum the Gazette should not be taking sides on a project that clearly the paper has not taken any time to research.
Donna Baron, North Potomac: Your opinion piece, “Hopkins’ plan is honorable” is offensive and completely missed the mark. It is absurd to state that Johns Hopkins’ current plan for a profit-making commercial office complex on Belward Farm is what Elizabeth Banks wanted. The plan is dishonorable. Her family knows that more than anybody. John Dearden, who brokered the deal with Ms. Banks while he was employed by Johns Hopkins, stated that the current plan is in complete opposition to Ms. Banks’ intentions. Elaine Amir, Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, was a personal friend of Elizabeth Banks and knows this is not at all what Ms. Banks would have wanted. Ms. Banks’ former neighbors and friends know this is not her vision for Belward Farm.
Elizabeth Banks was ADAMANT that her farm not be used for residential or commercial development. When she died in 2005, her obituary stated: “Her love of the land led Ms. Banks and her family to sell Belward Farm at a gift price to Johns Hopkins University to ensure its development as a campus instead of a housing or commercial complex.”
Just because “nearly 25 years have passed since Banks sold her farm to Hopkins” does not change her intentions for her farm or Johns Hopkins’ responsibility to honor those intentions. I approached David McDonough from Johns Hopkins Real Estate at one of the first community meetings and told him that Hopkins’ plan for Belward Farm was not what Ms. Banks wanted for her farm. His response was, “Ms. Banks is dead.”
She might not be here in person but her spirit is still strong. Don’t try to twist her words or violate her intentions for her farm. Elizabeth Banks would never have agreed to a high-rise commercial office complex on Belward Farm!
Hopkins’ plan takes advantage of the kindness of an elderly woman who sold her farm for one-tenth of its value based on her expectations that they would be good stewards of her beloved farm. In 1997, Ms. Banks and her family agreed to a 1.4 million square foot campus, not a 4.6 million square foot high-rise commercial office complex. Hopkins has not agreed to occupy any of the buildings on Belward Farm.
The current plan bears not the slightest resemblance to the vision of Elizabeth Banks regardless of what the Hopkins’ execs or the editors at the Gazette seem to think.
Honoring Ms. Banks’ wishes does not preclude the development of a forward thinking academic and science-centered plan for Belward Farm, but a money-making proposition for Hopkins cannot be the primary focus.
Audrey Warren, North Potomac: The recent article in the Gazette regarding Elizabeth Banks agreement with Johns Hopkins about her beloved farm was OFFENSIVE and totally off base. We have lived across the street from the Belward farm for 36 years. We knew Ms. Banks and her wishes were made known on a daily basis. Interview the neighbors. Speak from a place of knowledge. There is NO way any of us want to see that beautiful farm destroyed for greed.
Diana Conway, Potomac As a frequent reader of the Gazette, I was startled to see the apologist-editorial on the JHU plans for Ms. Banks’ farm. First of all, the surrounding area of the farm is, on three sides, established family neighborhoods so the argument about fitting with the surrounding development falls. Second, the passage of time does not negate or cancel the meaning of words or the intentions of parties to an agreement.
Even granting that the contractual terms used to specify the future use of the land are (to be generous) imprecise, that only speaks to Ms. Banks’ trust in JHU, and to JHU’s apparent desire for maximum future flexibility. It does not speak to her known desire, her known intentions, her known concerns. Rather, those are attested to by Ms. Banks’ decision to forgo tens of millions of 1980-value dollars (so even more today) in exchange for peace of mind about land she adored.
Many of us were upset to read your editorial, and disappointed that space was used to further distort the record.
Art Slesinger, Darnestown: The Gazette editorial of February 15, “Hopkins’ plan is honorable” misses many of the misrepresentations repeated by both the County and Johns Hopkins. The most fundamental truth missing is that it is impossible to know if Hopkins’ plan will fit with the County and community. Hopkins is a real estate developer and will place anything they can on the property to make a killing. They have made it clear that nothing associated with Hopkins itself is going on the Belward farm site. They will only develop it once they find a willing tenant who will pay for their portion of the farm through a ground lease.
The County sold the electorate on the concept that the gravitas of Johns Hopkins University would attract many life science companies. That now appears to be less than accurate. When Hopkins donated about 30% of the farm to the County; the sub rosa quid pro quo it appears was that MoCo would support whatever Hopkins desired to place on Belward. Now Hopkins is asking for 4.7 million square feet of development which is larger than the Pentagon. The R&D could be for nuclear weapons, ice cream flavors or anything else that smells like R&D. The Gazette is propagating the illusion that the site will "fit" with vague generalities of the Master Plan.
Regardless of whether or not Hopkins’ plans are consistent with Mrs. Bank's wishes, it is clear that Johns Hopkins Real Estate cares nothing about what their development may do to the farm or the local community. They originally tried to sell Hopkins as a great employer and good neighbor during their public hearings. The more we learned, the more we realized, Hopkins will not be here when the traffic congeals or the mass transit fails to achieve the somewhat tenuous goals to provide non-auto alternatives to commuting. Since Hopkins does not intend to occupy any of the development on Belward Farm, they are just one more absentee landlord hoping to make a killing in the real estate market and leave the MoCo taxpayers to clean up the mess.
Ann Sloane, Gaithersburg: You were remiss in printing the opinion piece, “Hopkins plan fits with spirit of agreement, Proposed development fits spirit of agreement while looking to future” , without printing a rebuttal right next to it. The piece is incorrect. This Science City that is planned has absolutely nothing to do with what Mrs. Banks wished for her farm, and it in no way naturally integrates itself into the surrounding areas. Just in case Hopkins hasn't noticed, Belward Farm is surrounded by established residential areas - none of which include high rises and massive density.
The plan that Johns Hopkins currently has is about making them money, not honoring the wishes of an old woman who actually believed they were an organization with integrity, which clearly they are not. The Banks family is trying valiantly to stop this debacle and force JH to honor the original agreement that they had with Mrs. Banks. I am hoping that the court will see through this travesty, recognize that the wording of the agreement between Mrs. Banks, a trusting older person, and Johns Hopkins was intentionally fashioned with ambiguous language so that Hopkins could do whatever they wished with her property once she died. Shame on them!
Jan Fine, Gaithersburg: I read your opinion piece on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 and wondered where the Gazette has been for the last four plus years. Having followed the stories in your paper, met with your reporters, and attended numerous community meetings, County Council meetings, hearings, transit meetings, and testifying before the Montgomery County Planning Board, I find it hard to believe that this paper can allow itself to publish an opinion such as this one. I thought this newspaper was listening. Now I am not so sure.
Your opinion states “Proposed development” DOES NOT “fit(s) the spirit of agreement”. “Spirit of the agreement” implies that Hopkins heard what Elizabeth Banks wished for the use of her land. Was the Gazette at the negotiations that took place 25 years ago to know this? Have you seen the two plans– the one that was approved over ten years ago and the current plan? If Elizabeth Banks saw the current plan she would be shocked. The density of development with mass transit running through it would be completely against her wishes. Would she have bent to the argument that forward looking high tech development needs to be done in just this way? I think not. There is more than one method to develop this property and more than one way to interpret the “spirit of this agreement”. Stating that the Gazette supports Hopkins plan as honorable is narrow minded and naive.
Mrs. Banks was visionary enough to see that her land would become an important piece in future plans for a major University. Much has changed since this land was sold at gift price, but the fact remains that Belward Campus is part of a puzzle of land use and it need not be the unreasonable monstrosity that JHU has planned it to become.
The Gazette should look back at its reporters notes and interviews and the articles it has printed about JHU and Belward Farm, Elizabeth Banks and her family, Science City and the entire Great Seneca Science Corridor. If you had looked back at all that has happened and all that the Gazette has reported, you surely would have realized that his opinion never should have been written.
Alan Madison, Gaithersburg: Shame! Shame! Shame! We don't get the Gazette anymore, but our neighbors and friends have shared your recent article: “Hopkins plan fits with spirit of agreement, Proposed development fits spirit of agreement while looking to future”.
Obviously, you haven't been listening to the family of Mrs. Banks. They, who are eminently more capable of speaking on her behalf than you and the folks from Johns Hopkins intimately involved in the original negotiations with Mrs Banks do not agree with you. Neither do the people in the surrounding ESTABLISHED RESIDENTIAL neighborhoods that would be dramatically and negatively affected by the over-reaching plans proposed by JHU. Witness the many protests at the County planning meeting and signs throughout the area, which you also ignored.
Shame on you, posing as a "journalist" when all you are actually doing is parroting the propaganda provided by JHU. How much were you paid for this or are you so used to being co-opted by your large advertisers that you don't recognize the difference between truth and corporate spin? Now you know why we no longer want the Gazette: we already get too much junk mail from corporations and their lobbyists.
Lisa Cline, Gaithersburg: Your recent "Get Over It" piece about Belward Farm is clearly not informed by the neighbors surrounding this property and the Bank's family. Not sure where you get off spouting off about how her opinion might have changed if she were alive today. If she was anti-development, one could only assume that she would remain so. (But, hey, it's been "25 years" already.) The Farm is the only untouched piece of land in the area...except for a few churches with several acres all to themselves. (If Mrs. Banks sat on a church, surely no one would be trying to pry it out of her hands.)
If your article was intended to provoke: success. It was a misuse of your exposure and privilege as a news source. Stick to the facts, Mr. Mannarino.
Richard Weiner, North Potomac: Whoa!! Where does the Gazette get its information? Your paper wrote that Ms. Elizabeth Banks would have welcomed the concepts proposed by Hopkins for her land. That is absurd. I have lived near her farm for almost 40 years. I watched how she maintained that land in pristine condition - as a farm. I watched as she would pull up signs along the edges of her property placed by real estate agents. I watched as she had her employees often trim all of the grass bordering her land. Her house, land, and barns were always kept in pristine condition. I watched as the county chewed away shamelessly in the name of developmental, at the edges of her land. Yet she persevered with her convictions as to maintaining a farm.
I realize that this whole Hopkins development thing is so politically charged, but it is just plain wrong for your paper to demean the honor of Ms. Banks. She was a good neighbor and if you understood the farmer mentality, you would understand that there is no way she would ever have wanted anything like the Hopkins vision to occur on her land. Don't you think that she would have asked for the money that such a development deserved? She priced the land with a vision to gift the community with a significantly different vision. The idea of Hopkin's vision was never in her mind.
I believe that The Gazette owes the memory of this dear lady a major apology. Please correct your mistake.
Adiva Sotzsky, Rockville: A more accurate title for the "our opinion" piece would be "DIS- honorable."
The Hopkins plan does not provide any type of 'fit' for the surrounding neighborhoods. Living in nearby Stonebridge, I recognize that the Hopkins' plan would destroy this area and, amongst other problems, make it even more difficult to navigate through our roadways.
Had I chosen to live in that type of an area (as Hopkins' proposes), I might have chosen to live in Crystal City VA. However, well over 20 years ago, I chose to live in this area of Montgomery County knowing that Elizabeth Banks was working to maintain the integrity and livability of this area.
I am grateful to the Banks heirs for filing suit to ensure that the true desires of Ms Banks are fulfilled. Flexibility does not mean over-reaching. It is possible to have modern research and educational purposes and growth met within a plan that works within, and adds value to, the existing area.
Margaret E. Truman, Rockville: I live in the Rockville area at 28 and 270. I have been following Johns Hopkins attempts to ignore Elizabeth Banks' intentions for her farm when she basically gave it to them. Your opinion piece on the Belward Farm was offensive and not an accurate reflection of her intentions for her farm.
Please do more research and write an article that informs people how the "quality of life" and sense of community for our neighborhoods will be eroded. Don't forget to mention air and noise pollution resulting from Johns Hopkins plans. Also, interview Elizabeth Banks' family and then give an accurate view of what she wanted for her farm. Shame on Johns Hopkins. It is disappointing to learn that you can't trust anyone!
Bill Agnostak, North Potomac: If you are so pro-development of Hopkins Farm by the "great," for profit, Johns Hopkins, why don't the powers to be at Hopkins agree to put ALL the required infrastructure in place BEFORE any development takes place? Including streets, utilities, mass transit, etc., etc. I guess, because they do not care about the community at-large, but only how best to make a profit. This is the typical do what is right for me approach, not what may be good for others. I wonder what tax breaks the county is also giving this project? Your completely biased and unsupported stance is why myself and some of my other business friends have stopped advertising in your "paper."
Andrea Pfeffer, North Potomac: The Gazette's opinion on Belward Farm was offensive and was not an accurate reflection of Elizabeth Banks’ intentions for her farm. The following quote from this week's article states, "The Hopkins plan would fit with the surrounding development and strengthen the county’s technology base. It represents the kind of forward-looking high-tech development the county must pursue and maintain to remain competitive in the region." This is not what Mrs. Banks wanted to happen to her land. I live in a nearby neighborhood and what Johns Hopkins said about the future would fit right in with the existing areas is not correct since there are neighborhoods on all three sides of this property
Dianne Gregg, Potomac: My opinion is that Hopkins Plan is Empire Building in the most negative sense. The intent of the Will would be destroyed, the neighborhood no longer livable for home owners, the traffic untenable.
Maria Fusco, Potomac: I cannot believe that I'm reading this article in the Gazette! Who do the editors think they are: "Johns Hopkins University doesn’ t appear to be acting against the wishes of Elizabeth Banks..." ????” How did the "author" of this statement draw this conclusion? I was in the courtroom, were you? I don't recall you there, but please let me know; so that I can strike a mark across your card: The Judge hasn't ruled... OR, are you trying to rule for her? Another of YOUR points: "Planning Board has given Hopkins the go-ahead to map the campus...." I only have what I listened to in court, and I wonder, was this "go-ahead" before or after the "gift of the 30 acres" to the County? Another of your comments: "Hopkins counters that a judge cannot rule against a development that hasn’t yet gotten off the drawing board...." But there were plans drawn BEFORE her death that she had agreed on, I believe something like 1.4 million sq. feet of LOW rise "educational" CAMPUS* that could have research (note* that in the day that the plans were made, "campus" referred to schools ~ "Campus-like-Office-Parks" weren't commonly referred to as "Campuses").
Shortly after her death, the plans changed to something like 4.7 million sq feet and HIGH-rise commercial properties ~ EXACTLY what she fought against, commercialism. Another point: "In a high-tech world, the sort of low-tech campus the heirs describe in their complaint simply wouldn’t be economically feasible nor would it serve a modern educational purpose." So, what are you saying here...AND LISTEN EVERYONE PLEASE... you're saying that other companies wouldn't like getting a similar gift?... All you big companies out there, if someone offered you this amount of land to build a nice facility to call your own... you wouldn't want it? FINE. PEOPLE HOLD ONTO YOUR LAND ~ DON'T GIVE IT TO These big businesses, like Hopkins.
Yes, although I didn't know Elizabeth Banks, I believe that she did have her eye on the future, and she really intended ~ just as I heard the Hopkins attorney say something along the lines, "that she meant to say that, but it's not what she signed off on." So, you know, but you're twisting words? Your comment left me believing that you, Hopkins, did in fact know what she meant, clearly.
Geez Hopkins ~ DO THE RIGHT THING: HONOR Mrs. Banks wishes and phenomenally generous gift. We're watching... as many of us tell the younger kids: "Watch what you do because the young ones are watching!" We WILL Learn from what you do.
Paul Hlavinka, North Potomac I read the Gazette article this past week and was really disappointed in the tone of the letter and statements made regarding the Hopkins’ plan for Belward Farm. As a neighbor of this property, I share the family's concerns about developing the property into something as massive as has been suggested by Hopkins. I cannot understand the Gazette's support of a full scale build out of the property into something other than what the family had desired. They loved this area and wanted the property to provide space for a space fitting the surrounding community.