The Postal Service is closing the historic 1916 post office in Stamford, Connecticut, on Friday — without ever having conducted a discontinuance study.
That’s because the Postal Service classified the closing as a “relocation” rather than a “discontinuance.” Relocation decisions are covered by a different set of postal regulations, which are much less stringent than the regulations for closures, and as a result, the community had much less opportunity to offer input.
The Postal Service is closing the post office without a new location in place because it has finally found a buyer. Details of the sale have not been made public, but the Stamford Advocate reports that the building has been purchased by the Cappelli Organization, a White Plains development firm that joined with Thomas Rich to build the 34-story Trump Parc luxury high-rise that opened in 2009.
Cappelli says it plans to preserve the oldest part of the post office building, which dates to 1916, but it wants to tear down a 1939 addition to the post office — a proposal that has drawn opposition from preservationists in the past. The post office is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Postal Service conducted the relocation process on Stamford two years ago. When it held the public meeting in August of 2010, David Rouse, a real estate specialist for the Postal Service, explained that the Atlantic Street building has 38,000 square feet, while a new retail office would need only 3,600 square feet. Mr. Rouse said it was too early to say where the new location would be.
Only a couple of dozen people attended the 2010 meeting. But that wasn’t for lack of interest in the community.
"The announcement of this meeting was the best kept secret in Stamford," city Rep. John Zelinsky told the Stamford Advocate. "If you're going to have a public hearing, you've got to let the public know about it."
Had the Postal Service been conducting a regular discontinuance study instead of simply a relocation process, the notification requirements would have ensured that everyone knew about the meeting, and it would have been much better attended. Instead, the meeting went under radar.
The Postal Service is now saying that until a new location is found, customers of the Atlantic Street post office should go to the facility at 317 West Avenue, where some new space is being built for box holders. The Postal Service says it is still looking for a new location, but considering how much time and money is being spent to expand the post office boxes on West Avenue, one wonders if there will ever be a new replacement for the Stamford post office.
The Postal Service had two years to a find a new location. Now it has gone ahead and closed the Stamford post office even without a new location in place. That is not only a violation of the Postal Service’s promise to the community — it’s also against the law. The Postal Service cannot permanently close a post office without going through a discontinuance procedure unless there is a replacement.
What’s happening in Stamford is significant for another reason. The Postal Regulatory Commission recently dismissed the appeals on the planned closure of post offices in the Bronx and Berkeley because the Postal Service described the closings as “relocations,” and the PRC views such relocations as outside its jurisdiction. In both case, the Postal Service conducted the relocation procedure without having identified a new location for the replacement post office.
In dismissing the cases on Berkeley and the Bronx, the Commission said that the appeals were "premature" because no discontinuance had taken place. The Commission did note, however, that "future events" could make the case "ripe" for review. In other words, were the post office to close without a new location in place, the closure could be viewed as falling within the scope of the discontinuance statutes and regulations, making an appeal possible.
Chairman Ruth Goldway added this note to the Commission's decision dismissing the Berkeley appeal: "The [relocation] process the Postal Service is currently employing appears to cause needless confusion in the affected communities, as evidenced by the appeals filed with the Commission, and damages its relations with the customers it is trying so hard to retain. The process would be improved if the Postal Service identifies the new post office location contemporaneously with announcing its decision to relocate the existing post office."
What's happening in Stamford shows that the Postal Service is perfectly capable of "relocating" a post office without providing a new location. Presumably the closure of the Stamford post office would now be ripe for appeal to the PRC.
Unfortunately, the case is a little past ripe. It’s dead. No one will bother appealing the closure to the PRC. The Postal Service will get away with breaking the law, while everyone just stands by and watches.
(Photo credit: Stamford CT post office)