The Columbia Association answers to residents only


Since your readers' first reaction will probably be to discount this letter because of our relationship to the Columbia Association, I would first like to remind them of the long-standing and well-earned reputation of Long Reach Community Association for independence.

Although CA underwrites about one-third of our budget, funded by our residents' lien payments, Long Reach is, like every Columbia village, a separate, incorporated organization headed by a board elected by our residents. Our employees are not CA employees and our opinions are our own, as the CA well knows.

It is extremely unfortunate that someone like Neil Noble, a member of a Resident Architectural Committee and in a position of responsibility within Columbia, is so poorly informed about how it is structured and how it works.

Certainly there is room for improvement in covenant enforcement and CA accountability, but to argue from error not only loses the argument, it destroys the credibility of his premise. Noble should be aware of the following facts before he lodges complaints.

Regarding the institution of a Columbia-wide Covenant Committee to enforce "our one set of rules," Noble should know that each Columbia village has a unique set of covenants. While our covenants are often similar and sometimes identical, there is, in fact, no single set of architectural rules all villages follow.

It would be impossible to enforce 10 sets of differing rules in the manner he proposes. For our mutual purposes of legal action and consistent application of our varying rules, a Columbia-wide body does exist -- the Architectural Resource Committee. Its membership consists of the covenant adviser from each village, a representative from Howard Research and Development and CA, CA's attorney as a legal expert, and a member from the public at large.

The requirement for legal notice to buyers within Columbia already exists. All sellers, which includes Realtors, must provide every buyer with an inspection, a certificate of compliance and copies of covenants, guidelines and other specified legal documents, such as articles of incorporation and current budget. This was adopted under the Maryland Homeowners Association Act of 1988 and applies to the Columbia Association, each village association and condominium association.

While perfect enforcement is an admirable goal, village associations must balance ideals with reality. Villages cannot, under current law, send out the paint police to inspect for compliance and still retain our non-profit status.

We must rely on complaints, which we follow up promptly and consistently. We should, and do, make every effort to work with people to bring violations into compliance. We must enforce our legal rights in a consistent and proper manner if we hope to win those cases that end up in court.

Finally, Noble does not seem to understand that there are three separate and independent bodies that perform entirely different functions, which he seems to lump under the Rouse Co.

The Rouse Co. is a publicly held corporation that in no way directs or controls the activities of the Columbia Association, nor it even directly responsible for Columbia development. Howard Research and Development is a Rouse subsidiary that is the developer of all New Town land in Columbia. It also has no voice in managing the Columbia Association.

Neither of these companies receives any funding from CA or from the lien paid by Columbians. Their only influence on the Columbia Association is that exercised by their properties' voting rights -- which, when asked if they choose to vote, have been cast "to conform to the vote of the majority of the members of the association."

The Columbia Association is the entity that collects the CA lien and owns and manages Columbia's open space and facilities. It is governed by a board of directors (the Columbia Council) elected by Columbia's property owners and residents. That council employs the president of CA, and his contract is reviewed annually. Only the Columbia Council -- which is entirely accountable to those who elect them -- determines the fitness of the administrator they supervise.

I can assure Noble that CA funds do not pay for Rouse Co. luncheons at whatever cost. It will make no difference to Rouse or HRD if the lien rises or falls. If CA has "expensive perks" that Noble finds objectionable, the Rouse Co. cannot remedy those errors, only the voters of Columbia and their elected representatives, the Columbia Council, can.

The council has heard recent discontent and made changes, including freezing staff salaries and reducing the lien. If that is not enough, then keep working for more change. But keep your " facts straight and on target: taking pot shots at General Motors ++ won't make your neighbor mow his grass.

(J. R. Beard is the chairman of Long Reach Community Association board of directors.)

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