Postal Service Eyeing Central Delivery for New Single-Family Neighborhoods

Central Mailbox PhotoIn an effort to close a nearly $20 billion budget shortfall, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is implementing changes that could affect how mail is delivered to new single-family neighborhoods across America.

For years the USPS has been hemorrhaging money due to a number of factors, including increased payments to employee healthcare and retirement funds, lack of institutional flexibility, and an outdated business model. So to minimize delivery costs, the agency has adopted a policy giving local postmasters the discretion to require mail delivery to centralized box units (CBUs) in new single-family residential neighborhoods.

This new policy recently came as a surprise to local builder, Classica Homes, which is building single-family houses in the Robbins Park neighborhood in Cornelius. Several weeks ago it received a letter from Cornelius Postmaster Richard Hallowell, stating that “effective immediately, for any new construction the only approved delivery mode [would] be CBUs.”  Planning staff and elected officials in the Town of Cornelius were also unaware of the change, which is particularly problematic as the Robbins Park neighborhood received zoning and plat approval several years ago.

Working with Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker and Congressman Robert Pittenger, REBIC was able to secure a waiver for the entire Robbins Park subdivision, allowing the builder to continue with the installation of individual mailboxes for all residents. But the Cornelius Postmaster has told the Town and REBIC that “all future developments must comply with the current guidelines.”

The problem? The Postmaster hasn’t released any guidelines for the installation of CBUs, other than the blanket requirement that they be used in all new single-family neighborhoods. REBIC and the Town of Cornelius have both argued that these guidelines MUST be developed in accordance with the Town’s existing subdivision requirements, and implemented only in communities that have not received preliminary plan approval.

Unlike individual mailboxes, which can easily be installed at the curb on each lot, CBUs are large, bulky units that serve multiple homes on a given street (see photo above). Per USPS guidelines, they must be installed in locations that are a convenient walking distance from the homes they’re serving, and common sense dictates they shouldn’t block driveways or impede a homeowner’s view of the street. This means CBUs need to be planned for when a neighborhood is being designed, or platted, not dropped in at the last minute on a community where homes are already under construction.

But the USPS is foisting the CBU requirement on neighborhoods already approved and in development, and without consulting local elected officials or planners. A survey by REBIC revealed that NO planning directors or staff in any local government in Mecklenburg County had been contacted by USPS regarding this new policy, and would not have known about the change had we not brought it to their attention.

While REBIC applauds the USPS for granting a waiver to the Robbins Park neighborhood, we believe the requirement should be shelved until specific guidelines are drafted and local subdivision ordinances officially amended to reflect these new standards. Also, the USPS should only require CBUs on those neighborhoods where development plans have not yet been approved, so that the developer and engineer can work with planners to appropriately site the boxes in a manner that is safe, convenient, and suitable for the neighborhood’s character.

According to USPS directives, Postal Service representatives are required to meet with builders and developers early in the process to ensure the best choices are made and to assess if the mode of delivery conforms to USPS policy.  It is clear that process did NOT occur in the case of Robbins Park.

To date, in the Charlotte region, the new policy appears to only have been implemented by the Cornelius Postmaster – but others may soon follow suit. REBIC will continue to work on this issue, and needs to know IMMEDIATELY if you have received similar notice from your local postmaster. If so, please e-mail Government Affairs Manager Rob Nanfelt with the details.

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