Delegate pushes for easier modifications to CA covenants

August 29, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

In the planned community of Columbia, nothing changes unless everybody agrees.

The covenants governing the Columbia Association, the homeowners association that is the steward for the community's commonly held land and amenities, cannot be altered without the consent of every property owner.

Not surprisingly, the covenants have never changed.

But a local state delegate is leading an effort to enable residents to press for modifications through a less stringent process. Del. Shane E. Pendergrass tried last legislative session to shepherd legislation through the General Assembly but fell short.

"It seemed reasonable that there should be some way in place to change the covenants, because the concept of changing them with a vote of 100 percent of lien payers is not a viable possibility," said Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat whose bill would have allowed two-thirds of voting property owners to amend the association's covenants.

She said she plans to renew her effort - and this time she expects help from the Columbia Association.

Next year, Pendergrass is aiming to again submit legislation - which is necessary to override CA's covenants - and wants the Columbia Association board to honor its intention of reaching a community consensus on what the appropriate avenue should be to change the covenants.

"I think they need to do what they said they were going to do," Pendergrass said. "And I have no regrets about the legislation that I put in last year. Even with the mixed messages that came from the board, it was absolutely the right thing to do."

Board member Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search said the board will address the matter after its committee that is examining the town's governing system concludes its studies Sept. 30.

"We fully intend on working with [Pendergrass] or whoever wants to get involved with it," O'Connor said. "We are very proactive on getting this done. ... We just want it done right."

Earlier this year, the board had asked Pendergrass to delay submitting her original covenant legislation for a year, to give members time to study the process. Pendergrass said she would comply if the association supported another bill she drafted that would limit the impact of sharply rising state property tax assessments on the annual charge the Columbia Association imposes on its property owners, which is based on property values.

The association's covenants require the homeowners association's annual charge to be based on a property's highest valuation.

The board supported neither of Pendergrass' bills. The General Assembly approved the assessment cap legislation this year. Pendergrass' covenant legislation was killed by a House of Delegates committee.

Pendergrass said she plans to submit legislation after the board has finished "a good, thorough public process and made recommendations," and she believes there's still time for that. She said she has not ruled out submitting legislation without a community consensus spurred by the board.

"I am waiting to hear from [the board]," she said. "And I do not expect to hear from them until the fall."

Barbara Russell, the board's vice chairwoman, said she worries the board may not address the matter until the "last minute" and feels the panel has a commitment to discuss with the community an appropriate mechanism to amend the documents.

"Just like the U.S. Constitution, you wouldn't want people bringing up frivolous changes to the U.S. Constitution, and I don't think we should have a process that allows frivolous things to be brought up," she said. "But I think we should have a process. Even the Constitution of the United States has a process for making changes."

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