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Board opposes delegate's proposal


The Columbia Association board of directors will not support proposed state legislation that would allow a majority of voting property owners to alter the homeowners association's covenants.

In a 5-4 vote with one member abstaining, the board voted Thursday to oppose the bill that Del. Shane E. Pendergrass submitted this month. The panel also decided it will pay a lobbyist to monitor - but not lobby on the association's behalf - the House bill's progress.

Pendergrass' HB 567 would allow the association's operating rules to be changed by a referendum brought by at least 10 percent of the property owners. A simple majority would have to participate to make the vote valid, and 33 percent of Columbia's property owners would then have to affirm the change.

Columbia Association's covenants can be changed now only by unanimous approval of property owners.

The board had asked Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, to delay submitting the legislation for a year so it could gather community consensus on an appropriate avenue to alter the covenants. Pendergrass said she would honor the board's request if the group supported her other legislation that affected the association - a bill that imposes a 10 percent ceiling on property assessment increases in Columbia.

In a split vote last month, the board decided not to accept Pendergrass' 10 percent-cap legislation.

Board members who opposed the covenant bill worried that the legislation did not have appropriate input from residents.

Cabell Greenwood, who represents River Hill, said he believed the legislation would "short-circuit the community's ability to participate in the process."

But board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills said that anyone could argue for or against the legislation by attending hearings in Annapolis.

While the board opposes the bill, it will not employ Columbia Association lobbyist Paul Tiburzi to fight it. In a 5-5 vote, a motion to provide Tiburzi funds to lobby on the association's behalf failed.

"We're sending a very bad message to Annapolis if we don't fight it," said board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown.

On Thursday night, the board did not agree on its stance regarding Pendergrass' bill that would impose a 10 percent cap on rising property assessments.

On Jan. 22, the board voted, 6-4, to ask Pendergrass to change the legislation so it would be voluntary, but she refused. On Jan. 29, a motion to accept Pendergrass' legislation failed, 5-5.

Chairman Miles Coffman said the board's Jan. 22 action still stands because the motion to take a position on the legislation failed.

But Russell argued that the Jan. 22 vote was part of the board's negotiations with Pendergrass and was never meant to be the group's final position.

"You can't take a position that occurs during a negotiation," Russell said.

The board did not resolve the issue Thursday night.

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