Editors Note: The next meeting of the committee will be Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m. at the Clubhouse.
The newly formed Governance Committee plans to start its review of HOA documents with a close look at the bylaws, in a sort of warm-up exercise before tackling the more comprehensive Covenants that govern everything from architectural standards to the Board of Directors’ guidelines for raising dues.
Committee chair John Daroff, who is also president of the HOA Board, called the panel’s first meeting to order in the Clubhouse on June 26 amidst the music and sounds of swim team races down below in the pool. The rest of the committee is made up of Joe Jordan, deputy chair and also a Board member; and residents Dan Amodeo, Sima Osdoby and Ron Tipton.
Looking down the road, the New Mark Commons Homes Association Board of Directors will have final approval on any proposals for change in the documents before submitting them to homeowners. A 60 percent approval by homeowners is needed to adopt new documents under Maryland HOA law.
At the time New Mark’s Covenants were drawn up, in the late 1960s, the community was one of the first homeowner associations in Maryland and there was not even state law governing their operations. One impetus for formation of the Governance Committee was the fact that the Covenants need to be brought into conformance with the law. Another is several years of brewing conflicts and litigation over everything from architectural control to dues.
New Mark’s long-time attorney, Brian D. Bichy, who has guided a number of communities through updating their documents, noted several glaring issues in the current Covenants that need to be addressed. “Assessment issues are going to be the biggest issue,” he said.
New Mark’s five different classes of dues assessments, depending on house style and size, “Is not really a concept similar to what most modern HOAs do,” Brian said. Having worked with communities similar to New Mark that have both townhomes and detached homes, he noted that these days, assessments are not based on size “but based on services they get from the HOA.”
Several residents have already responded to the committee’s call for suggestions and input to its email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wetterhahn has asked the committee to think about how New Mark might handle any annexation requests by future developers by examining the status of a late ‘80s agreement with the Westmont/Tower Companies, which had considered residential development along its border with Don Mills Court. A separate agreement was also forged when the Tegner homes were built on what had been vacant property next to the Clubhouse.
Raj Gupta, a former Board member who attended the meeting, had written to suggest a strategy that he thought could help gain approval for any changes by the necessary 60 percent of homeowners. He proposed a step-by-step series of amendments to the current Covenants rather than a single, wholesale replacement document. The amendments could then be submitted separately for community votes rather than submitting a new document for a “take it or leave it vote,” he wrote.
Brian noted that an issue-by-issue amendment process, similar to what Raj has proposed, often makes it harder to get community participation because the Board would need to keep going back to homeowners for a new vote. “You don’t want to make it too confusing. It’s hard enough to get anyone to participate,” he said.
Brian submitted an eight-point proposal to guide the committee through the review process, for which it would bill a maximum of $10,000. The scope of work would include analysis of the current Covenants and bylaws; one or two conference calls with the committee; preparations of final documents; and attendance at one meeting with homeowners.
Joe and Raj have both questioned the potential expenditure. John noted that money has been budgeted for the expense.
The committee agreed to look more closely at Brian’s proposal and suggest any changes before submitting a request to the Board to approve a contract not to exceed $10,000 for these legal expenses.
Dan said it was important for the committee itself to look closely at the Covenants and not have a lawyer “have the pen.”
“We need to make ourselves accessible to the community,” Dan noted. He called for meetings and “open houses” to bring homeowners along on the journey.
Brian pointed out that once there is agreement on changes, a lot of door-knocking would be needed to gain approval. “Most associations don’t get [approval] the first time,” he said.
The committee agreed with John’s suggestion to begin a “deep dive” into the less complicated bylaws while it fine-tunes any contract with Attorney Bichy.
Governance Committee email address: email@example.com.