Neighborhood developers might need to begin implementing centralized mailbox units in new subdivisions in Madison County, possibly eliminating curbside mail service in future developments.
This would help the United States Postal Service (USPS) save money by lessening the number of stops and keep routes consistent, as new developments constantly mean new stops.
In late September, Madison County received a notice from USPS about implementing cluster box delivery units in new neighborhoods.
County Administrator Shelton Vance addressed Mr. Dana Amos, state district manager of USPS, in response to the notice.
“After reading this notice, we (Madison County) interpret this notice to say that the USPS intends to institute cluster box delivery of mail to new developments in Madison County,” Vance stated in his letter. “That is, that the USPS intends to stop curb delivery of mail in new residential developments.”
Vance’s letter elaborated, stating that county officials are concerned about a possible additional cost burden on development and resident safety concern.
“We are concerned about access to mail delivery for a disabled resident,” the letter reads. “We foresee difficulty in the retrieving of mail by a disabled resident.”
Each cluster box would be required to have appropriate parking and access for disabled residents, and stacking traffic lanes or sufficient parking would be required to accommodate residents simultaneously obtaining mail.
“These issues relate to safety, but also result in increased developmental costs.”
The county’s second issue, according to Vance’s letter, is that in removing curbside mailboxes, public safety officers and emergency responders might have difficulty identifying residences.
“This is of great concern, as the numbering on a mailbox is a reliable identifier of house location for first responders. In addition, the costs of required lighting and maintenance will become a perpetual concern for the developer.”
USPS spokesperson Elizabeth Johnson later responded to Shelton in another letter, explaining the need for developers to implement centralized mailbox units in new neighborhoods.
“Centralized delivery, through the use of cluster box units (CBUs), is our preferred delivery method and box type,” the letter states. “These… have the advantage of being ‘package friendly,’ in that they are designed to accommodate the majority of packages delivered through U.S. mail.”
Johnson also explained that online ordering has increased package volume, and current residential curbside mailboxes “are designed on the basis of specifications implemented nearly a century ago and are too small to accommodate contemporary parcel volume.”
As a result, some packages can’t fit into mailboxes and must be redelivered, retrieved at the post office or left on doorsteps, making packages susceptible to weather damage.
“The postal service is directed by statute to provide reliable and efficient service. Centralized delivery fulfills our responsibility to safe, efficient delivery for both the customer and the postal service as we move into the 21st century.”
Implementing CBUs are within developers’ current standard costs when complying with county and city codes in acquiring easements, constructing streets, sidewalks, rights of way, as well as installing gas, water, electric and fiber optic line in new neighborhoods, according to Johnson.
“Developers and builders nationwide have successfully planned and installed CBUs in small and large developments that have complied with established codes for providing proper access for the disabled, and they have also designed their new homes with visible street numbers to alert first responders to emergency calls.”
Postal customers with serious disabilities may also opt to apply to their local postmaster for an alternate mode of delivery, according to Johnson’s letter.
“It’s to keep costs down and for safety reasons,” Amos said. “We’re just trying to be proactive.”
CENTRALIZED mail delivery installations provide a greater degree of protection against mail theft and mailbox vandalism than unlocked mailboxes, according to the USPS Web site.
“Customer compartments… are large enough to accommodate several days’ accumulation of mail, eliminating the need to have mail held at the post office during short periods away from home,” the Web site states. “Centralized mail delivery installations can also reduce risks to letter carriers from common hazards such as unleashed dogs and poorly maintained sidewalks.”
Each resident’s box would require a key, and the mail carrier would place larger packages in one of the few larger compartments, with a key to that particular compartment temporarily placed in the resident’s own box to retrieve the package.
The large compartment key can then be left it the compartment upon retrieval of the parcel.
“A cluster box unit (CBU) is a free-standing, pedestal-mounted mailbox containing eight, 12, 13, or 16 individually locked mailboxes and parcel compartments. Installations can be modified to blend with any community décor,” the USPS Web site states.
Now that USPS has come forward with the new implementation, the board must consider a change in the county subdivision regulations.
“The next step, in my understanding, would be for county engineer Dan Gaillet to consider whether the county subdivision regulation needs to be updated. If so, he would bring the matter before the board,” Vance said. “That decision (to update the subdivision regulation) would be timed at the discretion of the board.”