After a series of protracted debates over technical issues of wording, Montgomery County's state delegates overwhelmingly approved three bills this week that would allow new measures of control over county condominium conversions.
The measures, which were proposed by County Executive Charles Gilchrist after months of study by county officials, would allow Montgomery to broaden the amount of information condominiumm developers would have to disclose, and give tenants' groups or county agencies the right to purchase a building proposed for conversion.
The legislation would also allow the county's Housing Opportunities Commission to help finance new construction of rental units in the county, in part with revenues from a fourth Gilchrist measure -- a new tax on condominium conversions -- that the delegation approved last week.
Monday's delegation votes put Gilchrist's four-bill condominium package past its first hurdle for approval by the General Assembly this year. However, the bills must still survive the scrutiny of House subcommittees, the full House and the state Senate, and county officials expect stiff opposition at each of those stops.
Although Gilchrist's condominium plan calls for the County Council to implement the proposed controls on developers, including the new tax, the legislature must first pass new laws giving the council the authority to act.
The stiffest test for two of those laws -- those authorizing what is called the "right of first refusal" for tenants to buy condomiuiums, and the new disclosure provisions -- may come in the next few weeks when the House Judiciary Committee considers them.
That committee is chaired by Del. Joseph Owens (Montgomery-D), an iron-handed leader whose wishes are seldom ignored by Judiciary Committee members. Owens opposes both bills his committee will hear, and voted against both of them in Monday's delegation meeting.
County delegates explained that it was Owens' oppositon, in part, that led to the hours of debates on exact wording that preceeded the Monday vote. Although a majority of the delegation clearly favored all three bills, two long meetings were devoted to redrafting parts of them.
"I was trying to satisfy some of Joe's objections," explained Del. Donald Robertson, who was the driving force behind much of the technical rewriting. "After all, all of our efforts up to now may have been futile, depending on what happens in Judiciary."
Owens and several other delegation members oppose the condominium package because they believe it would place unfair restrictions on condominium developers and result in discouraging county growth without significantly helping the county's apartment renters.