Thursday, January 10, 2013

Belward Farm - Why people hate RE Developers

Picture from

A former cattle farm, Belward Farm is located at the intersection of Darnestown Road and Muddy Branch Road, and is recognized as one of the last remaining pieces of undeveloped farmland in the Rockville/Gaithersburg area.  Developers had long tried to buy the land from then owner, Elizabeth Beall Banks.  Opposing suburban sprawl, "Banks once scared county planning officials off her land with a shotgun.", reported the Washington Post.  "Another time she stood in front of bulldozers, hugging trees to stop development around her.  She turned down numerous lucrative offers to turn the grassy fields into a housing development."

In 1989, Belward Farm was sold to Johns Hopkins University for $5 million which was a fraction of the $54 million estimated value at that time.  According to, Ms. Banks sold the land to JHU in the understanding that the institution would build a minimally intrusive medical or academic campus that would preserve the character of the farm and provide a legecy for the Banks family who had owned it for over 100 years. 

According to the Washington Post article on February 19, 2001, Ms. Banks' relationship with JHU soured during construction on an eastern parcel when bulldozers removed trees in the buffer.  Ms. Banks said "They came, they lied to me" she said.  "It hurt me so.  I had all the faith in the world.  They turned on me.  They stabbed me in the back."

Belward Farm from a presentation by Johns Hopkins

Once Ms. Banks passed away in 2004, JHU saw dollar signs and changed its development plan to a "Science City", a massive university-owned commercial real estate venture boasting over 4.7 million square feet of office and mixed use.  Hopkins is reportedly offering ground leases for commercial development with buildings up to 14 stories tall.  Ms. Banks was ADAMANT that her farm must not be used for residential or commercial development, yet JHU DELIBERATELY ignored this request.  In an effort to see Ms. Banks' wishes, the family brought the University to court however ruled in JHU's favor to move forward with no development restrictions.  The Belward heirs are now appealing the suit.

I admit, as a real estate investor, I too always drool when I see the land: a sprawling 138 acres of land central to EVERYTHING.  But what makes me different is that I have morals.  I am not about to lie in someone's face, disrespect someone's trust, and take advantage of the situation to make a quick buck.  Hopefully JHU will be the bigger person and scale back the project to not further piss off the heirs and the community.  And shame on MoCo to try to "cash in" on business tax revenue!

When it comes to buying real estate, the best thing to do is to keep it as a buiness transaction: do NOT to make it personal.  Writing a clear and concise contract or agreement avoids situations like these where buyer/seller intent is questioned.  When you're SELLING real estate, it's ALWAYS personal.  You think of little Bobby swinging on that oak tree, Skip first learning to ride his bike, or Jenny sliding down the banister.  Sellers tend to have an emotional attachments to their homes so we need to be sensitive towards the situation.  At the end of the day, be respectful of other's wishes and treat others as you would like to be treated.


  1. Hi Patti - Thanks for posting about the lawsuit and bringing attention to this important issue. And thanks for your support that Ms. Banks wishes be honored. Your readers can stay up to date on the latest actions in the lawsuit by following the family's official Facebook page: and on Twitter page too: @SaveBelwardFarm -- Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the great post, Patti!
    Donna Baron
    Coordinator, The Gaithersburg - North Potomac - Rockville Coalition, online at