Members of a committee for the incorporation of Massanutten announced that they’ve gathered almost 900 signatures of community members for a petition in favor of making Massanutten a town. From now until January 2020, leaders of the movement plan to lobby state representatives for support of incorporation and the enactment of a town charter during the General Assembly session in March 2020.
The community of Massanutten Village, home of Massanutten Resort and multiple timeshare developments, is currently part of Rockingham County. There have been multiple studies into the feasibility of incorporating the area into a town over the past 32 years, according to a study published by community members in the Massanutten Town Study Group (MTSG), which provided a 2019 update on the push for incorporation. After over three decades of interest in the incorporation of Massanutten, committee members feel they have raised enough public support to move forward with the petition to incorporate.
“We’re not doing this for punitive measures or to punish timeshare companies,” Andrew Barnes, a Massanutten resident and committee member, said. “We live up here; we don’t have a local government that’s responsive to our needs. And our [Massanutten Property Owners Association], in profound ways, is legally incapable of doing that much.”
Interest in incorporation stems from a desire for self-representation and a stable economic model, Barnes said. He went on to say that he believes that the current model, which relies on the MPOA to provide a police force and to maintain the privately owned and operated roads with collected dues, is unstable and not representative of the Massanutten resident community.
The committee is also interested in controlling how land is used on the mountain, as they don’t believe the county represents community interests. Land zoning in the Massanutten area is controlled by Rockingham County which often defers to the development interests of timeshare companies and resort companies, Barnes said. Great Eastern Resorts, the management corporation of Massanutten Resort, is against incorporation—which the committee believes is partly due to fear of losing zoning privileges.
“If we became a town, we would have authority over future projects developed,” Barnes said. “So, everything that’s happening up here now is going to get grandfathered in, but we’d have the option to take control of land use on the mountain.”
Barnes explained that incorporation would allow the new town to “capture” the already existing revenue that was generated by residents and Massanutten Resort in the form of the $1.4 million in taxes that’s collected by Rockingham County. This tax revenue would enable the town to hypothetically take over maintenance of roads and administration of the police force from the MPOA and have final approval of zoning decisions.
Community members have shown their support of the effort for incorporation by signing the petition and volunteering, and Barnes believes there’s an “overwhelming” amount of support from residents of Massanutten. But there are prominent parties against the plan to incorporate, most notably Great Eastern Resorts.
“And that is mainly due to the fact that Rockingham County is an amazing entity for both Great Eastern and MPOA,” Sarah Elson, director of business relations at Massanutten Resort, said. “They already provide all of the services and infrastructure, roads and safety and police. Our position on it is to utilize the county for those services that we are already paying taxes for.”
Massanutten Resort is “comfortable with continuing that partnership, working with the county to provide services rather than starting almost from scratch,” Elson said.
Great Eastern said it doesn’t hold the opinion that Rockingham County isn’t providing enough resources to the Massanutten community, unlike the community members that organized and signed the petition to incorporate. The resort is currently negotiating its release from MPOA and the paying of MPOA dues, Barnes said.
Elson also said the resort believes incorporation will cause an increase in taxes and expenses for property owners, and they are disinterested in paying taxes to both the county and a newly incorporated town. This view was disproved by Barnes, who explained that tax revenue would simply shift from flowing to the county to the town and that there will be no double taxation. The incorporation organizers have no plans to increase real estate taxes if the town is chartered.
“I find their opposition to incorporation perplexing,” Barnes said. “I don’t know what the business case against incorporation looks like. Presumably, it’s one based on fear. And there’s two things in particular that they fear: the first is tax authority, and the second is development authority.”
If Massanutten is incorporated, Great Eastern will no longer pay annual dues to MPOA that amount to around $400,000, Barnes said. He said he believes that incorporation will only positively affect the resort.
“If you understand the politics of rural counties in Virginia, tax increases just don’t go over very well,” Barnes said. “From my understanding of the community, nobody is particularly interested in raising their own real estate taxes.”
The MPOA has remained neutral on the topic of incorporation and has published no position. The MPOA didn’t respond to The Breeze’s requests for comment.
The committee for incorporation is now moving forward with plans to lobby state legislators for support. They’ve reached out to one of Rockingham County’s state representatives, Delegate Tony Wilt (R), to begin lobbying for him to introduce legislation on behalf of incorporation.
“I have no idea whether I’d support [incorporation in state legislature],” Wilt said. “It’s pretty obvious they’ve got some issues, concerns and goals that they want to achieve through this.”
Wilt said that before he agrees to put the legislation forward, he needs to meet with the organizers to learn more about the issues they wish to correct with incorporation. The issues Barnes highlighted—the need for a stable tax base for Massanutten’s infrastructure and public services, and for the community to have a representative local government—will be the focus of the committee’s lobbying efforts.
The community of Massanutten’s united effort to incorporate was “inspiring” for Barnes. He expressed that in a time of political “polarization,” working alongside members of his community to fight for local change and self-representation was a positive difference from national politics.
“You care about the place that you live, naturally. You live there,” Barnes said. “It was really motivating how apolitical it was. It really was just about local community issues, and these issues are not driven at all by any kind of political ideology. We’ve got some basic problems, and there’s a pragmatic solution on the table. Why not do it?”
Contact Jamie McEachin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.