CA board might delay controversial homeowners legislation

The Columbia Association board might delay a request for legislation that would reclassify CA under state law, fearing that the proposal is too controversial to push through so quickly.

The legislation would reclassify CA from a homeowners association, governed by the Maryland Homeowners Association Act, to a nonprofit community service corporation.

Last year, the board mulled presenting the proposal to Howard County delegates, but ultimately tabled it to get more feedback from the community.

Members of CA staff argue that CA's unique size and structure calls for the reclassification, and that the recent increase in the number of proposed amendments to the HOA Act have unintended consequences to the association.

Critics, however, have argued that the change would make CA less transparent.

According to CA legal counsel Sheri Fanaroff, the majority of HOA bills filed in Annapolis over the last six years come from smaller, less complex homeowner's associations. Because the bills often don't apply to CA, staff members believe the time and money spent reviewing them are a waste of resources.

At the board's July 26 meeting, Paul Tiburzi, CA's outside counsel and state lobbyist, said state lawmakers are clamoring for the legislation, and recommended the board present the bill in time for the General Assembly's 2013 session, which begins in January.

"We are getting more and more pressure from delegates in Annapolis to address this issue next session," Tiburzi said.

Tiburzi recommended the board endorse the bill by October, leaving two months for the public review process.

The review process begins with individual public meetings with each of the 10 village boards, followed by a separate public hearing. After input is gathered, the bill is revised and the changes are submitted to state bill drafters for approval. Once approved, the bill comes back to the CA board for further discussion and final approval.

Although board members support the principle behind the bill, some are hesitant to move forward with the current draft because of community opposition.

"The bill, in its current form, is going to stir up a hornet's nest. ... By exempting ourselves from the Maryland Homeowners Association Act, we are going to get some push back," Oakland Mills representative Alex Hekimian said. "I think two months for something this significant is just way too short."

Harper's Choice representative Cynthia Coyle said the timeline originally budgeted a full year for the vetting process, with the hope that the bill would be ready for presentation in the fall of 2013.

Transparency at issue

At a March meeting of the board, residents expressed opposition to the legislation, arguing that it decreases CA's transparency by limiting public access to meetings and association records.

At Thursday's meeting, Wilde Lake resident Tom Scott, representing the citizen advocacy group Alliance for Better Columbia, said he would be open to the legislation if the transparency concerns were addressed.

Fanaroff said that the bill borrows language from the HOA act regarding transparency, but modifies it to fit CA's unique structure. Fanaroff says the bill actually increases transparency by broadening who can attend board meetings and view CA books and records.

"There seemed to be an awful lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions about what the law would do," Fanaroff said.

Regardless, members of the board acknowledged that prematurely pushing the legislation could make it appear as if the board was "pulling a fast one" on residents, as Dorsey's Search representative Tom Coale put it.

"If we do it in two months, we're better off not doing it at all," Coale said. "If we are going to do this, and we are going to make it worthwhile, we have to do it over a longer term."

The board agreed to adopt a wait-and-see approach, and will extend the public vetting process through October. Tiburzi said the extension won't affect the bill's eligibility for the 2013 assembly session.

"Let's see how it goes in the next month with the village boards, and then bring this back for another look," Coyle said.

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