Howard neighbors say lien is unfair

5 Columbia families say fees are taxation without representation

October 06, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Five families who live along Donleigh Drive, off U.S. 29 in Columbia, can appreciate the anger of Americans who dumped British tea into Boston harbor in 1773.

Every year, they pay thousands of dollars in lien assessments on their homes to the Columbia Association. But legally, they do not live in Columbia. They cannot vote in village elections, no village represents them and Columbia's architectural covenants do not govern them.

That's fine with the homeowners. They are not looking to start a revolution. They just want to stop paying the assessment, which is 73 cents per $100 of the home's assessed value.

"It's taxation without representation," said Harry Marquart, a Donleigh resident who has been paying the lien since he bought his land in 1975.

The trouble on Donleigh began in the 1960s when Howard Research and Development Corp., a Rouse affiliate, bought the sliver of land on which the houses sit. But when HRD sold the lots in 1968 and 1969 to be developed, Kings Contrivance - the closest Columbia village - did not exist. (The village was not incorporated until 1977).

By the time Kings Contrivance was created, HRD no longer owned the property, so it was never annexed to a village. But the Columbia assessment went with the land from the time it was owned by Rouse. Now, the homeowners are stuck with the homeowners association lien.

Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown said last week that she was not aware of the problem in Donleigh. But she noted that a few parcels or streets have popped up through the years that have not been connected to a village but have been required to pay the assessment.

The Donleigh residents adamantly do not want to become part of Kings Contrivance - they would rather get out of the lien entirely. Nor do they wish to be subjected to Columbia's architectural covenants, which govern home exterior appearances, ranging from house color to tree removal.

Gary Knott has taken the lead in a painfully long effort to get himself and the other homeowners out of the lien, or at least get their money's worth.

When he moved to the Don- leigh neighborhood in 1977, Knott assumed the whole neighborhood was in Kings Contrivance. But when he started talking to neighbors about voting in an election for Kings Contrivance - where residents would elect a representative to the 10-member Columbia Council - neighbors told him they do not live in the village.

Knott tried to vote anyway in 1981. But he was told by HRD that although he and his neighbors are subject to the lien, they are not covered under Kings Contrivance covenants. Bottom line - they cannot vote.

In 1998, Knott pleaded his case to the Howard County Planning Board before the land was officially zoned for new single-family town homes. Knott asked that the parcel receive services like the rest of Columbia, including tot lots and bike paths.

Despite Knott's efforts, nothing has changed.

The residents said the only benefit they receive is being allowed to join Columbia Association facilities at a resident rate. That means they can, for example, pay $265 for a family membership to the association's 23 outdoor pools instead of paying the nonresident rate of $595.

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