Was CA board action legal?

Power to approve land easements debated by panel

September 27, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,Sun reporter

Members of the Columbia Association governing board are grappling with whether the board acted illegally three years ago when it transferred the power to approve land easements from the board to the association president.

Phil Marcus, board member representing Kings Contrivance village - and author of a motion to reverse that decision - said the board's 2003 action may have been a violation of the association's charter, which requires land transfers to be approved by the board.

His push to give that authority back to the board comes in response to association President Maggie J. Brown's approval of a roughly 30-square-foot easement of association property for The Plaza Residences at Columbia Town Center, the planned 23-story lakeside residential and retail tower in downtown Columbia.

But Miles Coffman, chairman of the Performance Oversight Committee and board member for Hickory Ridge, is advising association staff members to have an attorney review the association's charter to interpret whether granting easements is an action that requires board approval.

"There is profound difference of opinion on this issue," Coffman said. "People are claiming that the staff can't give easements."

Once the board gets the legal opinion, it could decide next month whether to rescind the 2003 decision.

Board members who defend the policy said an easement is the lending of property for a period of time, similar to allowing a utility company an easement to install wiring.

"BGE has easements all over our property. They don't have ownership of the property, they have the right to use it," said Tom O'Connor, chairman of the board, during Thursday's committee meeting.

Alex Hekimian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, a watchdog group, said the organization plans to file a complaint with the state's attorney general's office.

"It's the sale and donation of property ... and CA can't sell easements without going through the process of the board," said Joel Pearlman, an attorney, and member of the ABC.

Marcus, a lawyer, argues that specific provisions in the Columbia charter outline the requirements for approval of an easement, including a benefit to the social welfare of citizens. He questioned whether the easement granted for the tower was beneficial.

Brown and other members of the board, said the easement for the tower was discussed during an open meeting, an opportunity for the board to ask questions. She defended her actions during the committee meeting, saying it was beneficial in the development of downtown.

Whether or not the action is found to be a violation of the charter, Marcus and some other members of the board said they want to transfer the power back to the board, noting the sensitivity of land use, especially amid plans to develop Columbia's downtown.

"Frankly, I don't care if the easement was granted legally or not at this point," said Philip W. Kirsch, board member representing Wilde Lake. "We have a motion before us and this does not say anything about anything being legal or not, it says about how we should handle these things."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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