Residents like cable bill change

Proposed amendment bans mandatory fee for service, allows homebuyers more choice

October 18, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Irritated residents of an Ellicott City community developed by Dr. Bruce Taylor near his family's former psychiatric hospital now appear satisfied with a proposed change to a Howard County Council bill allowing builders to get cable television franchises for individual housing projects.

Six people, including Taylor and county consumer protection administrator Steve Hannan, testified in favor of the amendment at a hearing Monday night. The added language is designed to free unwitting homebuyers from restrictive private covenants that might deny them a choice of video options or force them to pay fees for a service they may not want.

A large group of Taylor Village residents had opposed the original bill last month, incensed that they were facing a $65-a-month mandatory charge for video services from Taylor's Ellicott City Cable Company whether they wanted the service or not - and even though they said the charge was not disclosed in their home purchase agreements.

Taylor's firm was operating without a franchise on his company's private property within the development. He wanted a franchise from the county, however, so he could extend his company's reach across a public road to other homes in the community.

"This bill was causing us great heartache," resident Mel Trimble testified.

The bill, sponsored by western county Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga, would allow developers to get so-called "secondary" cable franchises for individual housing projects of less than 1,600 homes. The amendment, sponsored by Councilman Ken Ulman, an East Columbia Democrat who met last month with a large group of the Taylor Village residents, prohibits any mandatory cable fee "as part of a covenanted homeowner's mandatory assessment."

Ulman said the amendment is also designed to free Taylor Village residents from their developer-created covenant, but he plans to confer with county lawyers to make sure no other mandatory charge may be imposed on residents.

The amendment also requires recipients of small cable franchises to "be open to competing cable operators," giving residents a choice of services. Some Taylor Village residents said Taylor initially refused access to competing, national cable firms. Taylor testified that his firm's services have so far been provided free to residents.

"I definitely want this to go forward," said resident Arlene Young. Residents at a recent meeting voted 47-0 to support the amendment, another speaker said.

A final vote on the bill is scheduled for Oct. 30.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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