The deadline to file legislation for the Virginia General Assembly 2020 session was Jan. 17, and a bill requested by residents of Massanutten was not included.
It’s been nearly three months since a petition was signed by 860 people supporting incorporation of the Massanutten community as a town.
It wasn’t the first time residents have pushed to become a town. Nearly 10 years prior, Gene Hauze led the first movement to incorporate.
During a press conference in November, Hauze said he and other residents had canvassed roughly 75% of their neighbors and identified 1,530 fellow “citizens” of Massanutten. These “citizens” were eligible voters in the proposed town area, he said. The same area had 2,291 residents in 2010, according to the most recent census data.
But one of those citizens is leading a movement in opposition of Massanutten becoming a town.
Basil Hangemanole has lived in Massanutten since 1976 and is a Realtor for Kline May Realty. He has served on several boards and committees affiliated with the community and feels incorporation is an “overreaction.”
“The guy in charge has been at it for 12 years. … I was on his side when Great Eastern wanted to build timeshares in a place where we didn’t want it,” Hangemanole said of the corporation that owns Massanutten Resort.
Great Eastern, which manages timeshares on the mountain, opted to withdraw from the Massanutten Property Owners Association last year — which will result in a loss of $420,000 a year in funding for the association, Hauze said.
“But this is a resort. It has always been a resort,” Hangemanole said. “Incorporation would change the character if this place. We don’t want to be a town.”
If the community were to be a town, it would receive the roughly $1.2 million in meals taxes and short-term rental fees that are otherwise paid to Rockingham County, according to Lowell Barb, commissioner of revenue for the county.
With the estimated $1.2 million, Hauze said the town could cover costs such as road maintenance and public safety, which area residents already pay for. He also said money resort visitors pay in meals taxes and transient occupancy taxes would come back to pay for the police force.
Hangemanole said he was worried about the new level of government that would come with the incorporation, adding that it would cut MPOA dues, money from the Virginia Department of Transportation and federal grants.
“There is no plan provided in how they will pay for it,” he said. “There would be 100,000 timeshare owners who have no vote, and they invest a lot of money. They don’t use schools and county facilities.”
Great Eastern employees who own property and people with vacation rentals would also be hurt, Hangemanole said.
“I don’t see how it will financially benefit anyone,” he said. “We can only speculate about what could happen, and I am not alone.”
Hangemanole said he sent a letter to roughly 50 to 60 people, along with Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, in opposition of Massanutten becoming a town.
In the letter, Hangemanole states that the township would “primarily represent homeowners, polarize the community and adversely affect more than 100,000 deeded timeshare owners, vacation home renters and businesses.”
It would also take time to form, increase local government costs and delay acquisition of the Massanutten water and sewer facilities.
Hangemanole also said that because the MPOA provides the efficient and cost-effective maintenance and snowplowing of resort roads, it would be “unclear” if turning over the roads to the state and town would be more cost effective or better.
“Township advocates believe that the Commonwealth would provide enormous annual sums of money for road maintenance,” he said. “While this might pay for the roads, it does not pay for the operation of a town.”
Hanger responded to Hauze on Jan. 18 with a letter that he shared with the Daily News-Record.
“As your representative in the Senate of Virginia I have been working with some of the leadership of your community to determine the feasibility of establishing a new town in Rockingham County by incorporating the Massanutten neighborhood,” Hanger wrote. “Politically this is not a simple task as this has not been done in Virginia for over 30 years.”
“…I decided that politically it would not be possible to gain approval for this authority during this session,” Hanger wrote. “I have had numerous conversations with senior staff and other Senators including the Chairman of the Local Government Committee and was advised that it would be best not to proceed until more of a consensus was reached locally on the issues involved.”
Hanger said issues related to water and sewer, roads, law enforcement and relationships with the county and Great Eastern “all need to be vetted.”
Hanger concluded by saying he was looking forward to working with residents and all parties over the coming months to address the issue and if the parameters for township can be agreed to.
Wilt responded to Hauze on Jan. 17 with a two-page letter agreeing with Hanger that it would not be possible to incorporate during the 2020 General Assembly session.
“The petition effort clearly displays that residents have legitimate concerns about the future of your community and current challenges you are facing. I agree efforts need to be made that address these concerns,” Wilt wrote. “Moving forward with town incorporation may ultimately prove to be the best path forward, but I do not believe pursuing it in the current 2020 General Assembly session offers Massanutten residents the best opportunity for a favorable outcome.”
Wilt said that after speaking with stakeholders, it became clear that there were efforts underway to address those concerns and if legislation were to move forward this session, it would likely cease those efforts.
“I anticipate the parties would ‘retreat to their corner,’” he said.
Achieving success for the incorporation through the legislative process would become an “uphill battle,” and if the effort were to fail, Wilt said he expected it would damage the prospect for positive outcomes to address the concerns in the future.
Wilt said his office conferred with the legal counsel that assists with drafting legislation due to there being a question of whether it would be permissible under the rules of the legislature, but concerns were raised and did not draft and introduce special act legislation.
“While it has been done, that was nearly 30 years ago,” Wilt wrote. “Since that time, the willingness of the legislature to create new municipalities has diminished. There is a process spelled out in code for incorporating a town through the court system. That process was created decades ago and I do not fully know the intentions of the legislature at that time, but it would seem logical to conclude this was done to standardize the process and remove the sole authority from the legislature (the General Assembly would still be responsible for eventually approving the charter).”
Despite not filing legislation, Wilt said he intends to continue to stay engaged and will be asking Massanutten stakeholders to keep him informed of their progress, or lack thereof, moving forward.