In 1989 the Newell family sold their 138-acre farm to Johns Hopkins University at the bargain price of $5 million. The sale was contingent upon the university using the vast majority of the property, called the Belward Farm, for educational and research purposes, writes Jonathan O'Connell at the Washington Post.
However, last week the University found itself being sued by the Newell family at Montgomery County Circuit Court for what the Newell's call "gross violations of those contingencies."
The university has allegedly morphed from acting as an academic institution to a commercial real estate developer intent primarily on making money, something that the family wanted to prevent from happening when they offered the farm as a gift.
"The donor intent was extremely clear, and if they had wanted it developed at the time, they wouldn't have put any restrictions on it," Tim Newell said.
In 1997 the university and the Newell's had agreed on a plan to build a 1.4 million-square-foot satellite campus on the farm, but now, after seeking approval by the country planning board, the plan is for 4.7 million square feet, which county officials envision as the anchor to a "Science City."
Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, said he does not expect the lawsuit to thwart those plans.
"We're expecting that at the end of the day Hopkins will be able to help us achieve our life sciences goals," he said.
Tim Newell now lives in New Jersey and has said that any hope of negotiating directly with the university has long passed and he and his family have taken their case to the county council multiple times, but to no avail:
"I don't know how we could have prevented this. It's just sad that someone has good intentions and someone else takes advantage of it down the road," he said.
A Johns Hopkins spokeswoman declined to comment.