Published On: Wed, Aug 27th, 2014

Commission votes down RAD proposal

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Too many questions and too much uncertainty. That’s why two Pocahontas County Commissioners voted down a proposal to create a resort area district (RAD) at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. During the Commission meeting last Tuesday evening, Commissioners William Beard and Jamie Walker objected to a motion by Commissioner David Fleming to approve Snowshoe Mountain, Inc.’s RAD petition.

The Commission heard public comments prior to the vote. Discussion focused on two contentious issues: a RAD dissolution process and election districts for three homeowner representatives on the seven-member RAD board.

Snowshoe property owner Pat Stump worked on a RAD organizing committee.

“The committee took an extremely conservative approach to this whole issue,” said Stump. “You gentlemen came up and had discussions with us and I think it’s been very open all the way through. The majority of that committee was homeowners and we’re the ones who decided what we thought was best for the community. So, I’m hoping you support it.”

In April, Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., submitted a petition to create a RAD to the Commission. In a vote by affected property owners, opponents mustered 459 votes – just 11 votes short of the 470 needed to block the RAD process for a year.

Snowshoe property owner Mike Pancione urged the Commission to withhold a decision until it is confident in “the integrity of the process, the integrity of the data and the protection of the homeowners.” Pancione advocated for a review of the vote and spoke in favor of a dissolution clause and election districts.

State Farm Bureau President Charles Wilfong advised the Commission not to rush a decision.

“The County Commission still isn’t bound to approve this,” he said. “With everything that’s in play, it looks like a good thing to do would be to put it off for a year, unless Snowshoe brings some clarity to the whole process. You all, as a Commission, aren’t even clear about all the provisions in there.”

During the discussion, DeBerry said a change to the proposed RAD boundary had been made to exclude certain properties, subject to deed conditions, that make the properties unavailable for RAD assessments. As a result of Snowshoe Mountain’s last-minute map revision, a total of 19 properties were drawn out of the proposed district. The affected properties are Silver Mountain, Sunrise at Silver Creek and a small parcel of Snowshoe-owned property.

“The challenge was finding a boundary that still maintained a contiguous district boundary and got it in all the way to their point,” said DeBerry.

Matt Tate questioned whether the map change had affected the outcome of the vote.

DeBerry argued that many decisions, including creation of election districts, should be made by an elected RAD board. Resort management is guaranteed a majority of four seats on that seven-member board.

In order to address RAD dissolution, DeBerry proposed a “cessation” clause, which would halt RAD operations, but not dissolve the RAD, if a majority of property owners voted to do so.

Fleming moved to approve the RAD petition with DeBerry’s map change and cessation amendment.

Beard said more time is needed to clarify issues.

“There’s a lot of disagreement on issues,” said Beard. “To me, it would be a whole lot easier to vote on the issue tonight if we had a whole lot more people that were for it, and not arguing different issues,” he said. “To change that right now is going to be impossible. I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a little more time to work some of these issues out, so it will be more clear for everybody and more comfortable for everybody. At this time, I’m going to have to vote ‘no’ on it.”

Walker said he’d been “blind-sided” by last minute changes.

“I talked or got messages from 16 people in the last two days, and I got blind-sided by a lot of things,” he said. “For instance – the property line change. Every person of the 16 people that I talked to wasn’t necessarily against the RAD, but they had problems with it. They thought it needed more time or thought it needed changed. Tonight, we had six people who raised their hand against it, there was 10 people who raised their hand for it. So, I’m not willing to move forward, at this point, until it’s more clear for everybody and more clear for myself. However, personally, I feel it would be a good thing, but it’s got a lot of details that need worked out before we move forward with it.”

Beard agreed that a RAD is a good idea.

“I agree with Mr. Walker’s comment on the RAD itself,” he said. “I think it would benefit the county in the long run. I think it would benefit the people on the mountain, too. But, I think there’s issues that concern me and a whole lot of other people.”

DeBerry said the Commission’s role is to settle disputes.

“The great majority of the issues that have been raised are the exact same issues that were before you a year and a half ago,” he said. “There are 1,877 property owners and they’re not going to all agree on exactly how this should go. It’s been put to you guys to be able to make those decisions.”

The Commission can reconsider the petition at future meetings.

Fleming said the Commission was trying to resolve issues better handled by an elected RAD board.

“I think we’ve followed the process very well, to the point where we have to trust the RAD board to be elected and to take it from here,” he said. “We shouldn’t have control of this from every aspect and every turn, and my fear is that this Commission is trying to do that and getting into questions that really aren’t for us to try to openly answer.”

Last year, the Legislature passed a statute authorizing county commissions to create RADs – public corporations with the power to impose “fees” on retail transactions, collect assessments based on property values, and operate a police force. No RAD has been created in West Virginia.

DeBerry scheduled public meetings in early September to provide information on the RAD proposal. The meetings will be held at: Linwood Community Library on September 2 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.; Snowshoe Mountain Career Center in Marlinton on September 3 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.; and Green Bank Public Library on September 9 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

About the Author

- Geoff Hamill can be contacted at gshamill@pocahontastimes.com