Bethesda MD


In Dubious Battle: The Postal Service, Congress, and Verizon go at it

July 31, 2012

Congress and the Postal Service are locked in a brutal face-off, with the future of the post office at stake.  An angry Congressman writes the Postmaster General accusing postal officials of uttering falsehoods.  The Postal Service defends itself by blaming an Internet provider. 

No, we’re not talking about Darrell Issa, postal D-day, the historic default on the $5.6 billion payment to the retiree health care fund, or the liquidity crisis destined to occur if Congress doesn’t rescue the Postal Service with new legislation.

Those are just abstract bookkeeping issues.  Whatever the headlines say, a default is not going to affect daily operations of the Postal Service in any significant way.  (Not that the headlines will help USPS revenues very much — the stakeholders hate uncertainty.)

The more serious issue is something very concrete — a parking lot

Not far from the halls of Congress and postal headquarters lies the wealthy community of Bethesda, Maryland.  It’s there that three behemoths — the USPS, Congress, and Verizon — are locked in a heated dispute over a half dozen or so parking spaces. 

It’s no joke.  Parking is one of the scarcest resources on the planet, especially in downtown Bethesda.

The problems all started a few weeks ago, when the Postal Service closed two Bethesda post offices — the New Deal post office on Wisconsin Avenue at Montgomery Lane and the Arlington Road office — and relocated them into a new retail facility, about ten blocks down Wisconsin Avenue from the historic post office.  There’s a parking lot adjacent to the new facility, but when customers visiting the post office started parking there, they found themselves being ticketed and possibly getting towed.  

That’s when Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen stepped in.  He wrote the Postmaster General in May about the problem and got a reply from the USPS Government Relations Manager explaining that the agency was doing everything it could to minimize the parking difficulties.  With his constituents continuing to complain, the Congressman wasn’t satisfied, so more letters were exchanged.  What postal officials told the Congressman served only to increase his ire.  (The Bethesda Patch has the story and all the letters.)

The Postal Service explained that when they scoped out the new location before signing the lease, they saw a sign saying that the parking was available to the tenant.  The lot didn’t belong to the new post office building, however.  It belonged to the building on the other side, which has two tenants — Mattress Warehouse and Verizon. 

Optimizing Bethesda: Another New Deal post office, sold and soon to close

July 25, 2011

Head west out of USPS headquarters in L’Enfant Plaza and take Wisconsin Avenue north, and in less than 30 minutes, if the traffic isn’t too bad, you’ll find yourself in one of the richest and most highly educated communities in the country, Bethesda, Maryland. 

In the middle of town at 7400 Wisconsin Avenue you’ll discover one of the more beautiful of the country’s post offices.  You can’t miss it because it’s right next to a large Madonna of the Trail statue, erected by the National Old Trails Association and the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor pioneer women.  Future president Harry S. Truman, then president of the Trails Association, presided over the dedication of the monument on April 19, 1929. 

The Wisconsin Avenue post office was built by the New Deal in 1938.  It is included in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation, and it contains a mural by Robert Gates, who would later become the head of the Art Department at American University.  The mural shows farm women feeding their animals on one side, selling produce at the market on the other, which may be an allusion to the Farm Women’s Cooperative Market that began across the street in 1932.

Eleanor Roosevelt took a special interest in this post office, and on Dec. 12, 1938, in the middle of a day packed with personal engagements and public appearances, she visited the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department to look at the mural sketches Gates was working on.  The sketch was “charming,” wrote Eleanor in her diary, and then she added, “I think these post offices are making the country more and more conscious of decorative, artistic values.” 

The Postal Service sold the Wisconsin Avenue post office in March for about $4 million, and the new owner has been renting space back to the Postal Service, so the post office is still open.  But now the Postal Service is planning to consolidate the Wisconsin Ave post office and the Arlington Road post office, and to re-locate both to a central office.

Dennis Perry is a real estate specialist who works in the USPS eastern facilities service office in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Asked why the Postal service was considering closing the Wisconsin Avenue post office, Perry replied, “To drive the highest and best use, to optimize our operations.”

I guess you’d have to ask the folks over in L’Enfant Plaza how it came to pass that the post office is not being used to its full capacity.  They probably moved most of the postal workers to other locations some time ago, leaving only a small retail operation, just as they’ve done at downtown post offices across the country. 

There’s a meeting to discuss the consolidation plan on July 27.  If you can’t be there but would like to let Mr. Perry know what you think about “optimizing” this historic post office, you can give him a call at 336-665-2863 or drop him an email at dperry2@usps.gov.   I’m sure he’d be happy to explain why history doesn’t mean squat to the Postal Service.

(Photo credits: Wisconsin Ave. post officepost office and Madonna of the Trailmural)

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