Considerations for the Town Incorporation of Massanutten
The Massanutten Community has grown considerably since development began in 1971 on the private-gated residential district of Massanutten Village. It now consists of four master planned districts — Massanutten Village, Woodstone Meadows, Village Festival, and Massanutten Station. The Massanutten Village district alone looks and acts much like other towns in Rockingham County having the largest land area, lane miles of roads, housing units, assessed real estate property value, and the largest population, if visitors in timeshare units are included. There are now more than 2.44 million vehicles entering into the private-gated residential district, with more than 55% coming from the general public patronizing Massanutten Village businesses.
The combination of historical factors has created many challenges for the Massanutten Community. Currently, the Massanutten Community lacks sufficient ways and means to balance the burden of paying for essential services among its property owners, citizens, businesses, and visitors. The Massanutten Community is also not eligible to receive intergovernmental assistance to help pay for essential services, which are stressed by a very large number of visitors from the general public. And, it lacks the ability to comprehensively plan and zone in the best interest of its citizens, to include their quality of life. Town incorporation of the Massanutten Community is feasible and is one way to address these issues. However, Massanutten Village property owners do benefit from being a private-gated district, where access by visitors from the general public can be somewhat limited and where privacy can be considered in private governance. Town incorporation could have a negative impact on these benefits. In general, therein lies both sides of the broad consideration for town incorporation. Section IX of the Final Report examines fourteen (14) distinct questions that citizens and property owners may wish to further consider when weighing their own pros and cons about the town incorporation of Massanutten.
The primary consideration of town incorporation stems from its basic premise — that is, town incorporation provides a community with a legally organized government body made up of local citizens with the authority to act in the best interest of their community. This provides a contrast in governance between towns and counties, with many governance decisions, specifically related to comprehensive planning and zoning, often determining the quality of life for citizens. The County Supervisors have made zoning decisions over the last fifteen years approving three relatively large districts to be built adjacent to the Massanutten Village district. The approvals were largely based on the additional county tax revenues that would be generated by the developments benefiting the more than 70,000 county citizens. However, the same decisions negatively impacted the quality of life for roughly 2,400 citizens of Massanutten Village by generating a very large influx of visitors into their private-gated district. In general, a large influx of visitors into any private-gated district reduces the overall privacy, safety, and security of the citizens of that district. If Massanutten had been incorporated into a town prior to these zoning requests, elected town officials may have come to a different conclusion about the three additional adjacent districts. They may have denied one or more of the requests, demanded more modest sized districts, and/or required additional road improvements from the developer, as a condition for approval. If the Massanutten Community incorporates into a town, many acres of undeveloped land within the town boundaries would be subject to the planning and zoning by the elected town officials, who could act in the best interest of community citizens. And, if the Massanutten Community incorporates into a town, elected town officials would have the ability to take action more quickly on community problems and emergencies through amendments and/or enforcements of town zoning ordinances.
Another consideration of town incorporation stems from a town’s ability to balance the burden of paying for essential services among community property owners, citizens, businesses, and visitors. Currently, the majority of essential services for the Massanutten Community are provided privately by the Massanutten Property Owners Association (MPOA) in the Massanutten Village district. MPOA is limited to paying for these essential services by assessing fees on Massanutten Village property owners (70%), operating commercial ventures (25%), and by receiving contributions from the project developer (5%). There is a disproportionate burden (70%) placed on property owners to pay for essential services, where 55% of the vehicles entering into the Massanutten Village district are visitors coming from the general public patronizing its businesses. If Massanutten incorporated into a town, a Town of Massanutten could levy taxes and fees on property owners, citizens, businesses, and visitors in a fair and balanced way to pay for essential services. This could include receiving roughly $350,000 per year in revenues from vehicle license, food & beverage, and transient occupancy taxes, already being paid to Rockingham County by Massanutten citizens and visitors. A Town of Massanutten could also be eligible to receive more than $800,000 per year in state and federal assistance to help pay for road maintenance and law enforcement services. An incorporated town’s approach to pay for essential services could save the average homeowner in the Massanutten Village district as much as $315 per year and could save the average undeveloped lot owner as much as $485 per year for each lot.
Another consideration of town incorporation stems from the potential loss of some identity and control of MPOA. Currently, Massanutten Village is a private-gated district with no publicly owned property which is privately governed and serviced by MPOA. Prior to the development of the three adjacent districts, the Massanutten Village district had substantially less overall traffic (1.2 million vehicles) and a lower percentage of visitor traffic (30%). MPOA could readily limit access by the general public thru its main gate and enforce trespassing in its subdivisions, which are posted as private with no trespassing. As the development of the three adjacent districts has progressed, access control has become increasingly more difficult, as overall traffic has nearly doubled and visitor traffic increased to more than 55%. These increasing numbers stem largely from rights of Massanutten Village business property owners to give patrons access to their establishments. These patrons include tourists staying in the Woodstone Meadows district, having access to the skiing and golfing businesses in the Massanutten Village district. The sheer number of vehicles and associated people make it more and more difficult to control access. But, despite the increasing traffic, access control is still utilized by MPOA to provide some measure of privacy, safety and security to Massanutten Village property owners. If Massanutten incorporated into a town, MPOA could lose its right to control access. This would happen, if and only if, MPOA turns over privately owned roads for public use. VA Law does not require a town to provide road maintenance to its citizens. So, town incorporation is not predicated on MPOA turning over its privately owned roads for public use. And, if Massanutten incorporated into a town, MPOA could actually turn over only Massanutten Drive and Del Webb Drive for public use and town maintenance resulting in a reduction of the MPOA assessment fee by roughly $150 per year for each property (lot). These two roads are currently the most heavily used by the general public and access controlled could still be maintained in MPOA subdivisions.
Finally, there is another consideration worth noting in this summary, one which is related to the Massanutten Community public and private utilities. The services provided by utility companies would be relatively unaffected by town incorporation, with two exceptions. First, an incorporated town could have greater legal authority, than a private corporation like MPOA, to ensure the long term proper repair of roads and right-of-ways after construction is done by utility companies. Second, the elected government officials of an incorporated town are recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia, to include the Virginia State Corporation Commission, and could have greater political success, than a private corporation like MPOA, in preventing or limiting any future rate increases by utilities, to include those rate increases related to water and sewerage.
Section IX of the Final Report contains more detailed considerations concerning town incorporation. However, the reader is encouraged to review the entire Final Report to gain a better understanding and appreciation about the feasibility and considerations of incorporating the community of Massanutten, Virginia into a town. The Final Report can be found at www.townofmassanutten.org or can be obtained from the Massanutten Property Owners Association, 3980 Massanutten Drive, Massanutten, Virginia 22840.