Proposed postal site irks mayor

Location considered too far from town's business district

August 05, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Postal Service will likely build a Hampstead post office more than a mile from the business district, a move the mayor criticized yesterday as a "major mistake" and "hypocritical."

Mayor Christopher M. Nevin charged that postal officials "were paying nothing more than lip service" when they agreed in June to consider locating a post office in the downtown business district at the old Hampstead Elementary School.

Nevin said John Turpin, a postal service spokesman, told him Tuesday the "preferred site was the one on Route 30 near Lizzie's Lockers," near the town's northern border with Greenmount.

Town and business officials have been lobbying postal officials for months to keep a post office in the business district.

"Overall, it's a pretty poor decision since the majority of the town's residents live south of Route 482 and they want to place the new post office a mile from there," Nevin said.

He also said the post office's decision violates the governor's Smart Growth objectives to control sprawl and direct development to existing communities.

"I believe that decision was made Monday, or even before that," Nevin said. "All it is going to do is create more traffic as town residents have to drive that much farther to get to the post office. We still don't know what they are going to do to deliver mail to the folks living on Main Street." Those living along Main Street pick up their mail from postal boxes in the post office on Houck Avenue.

Calls to Turpin yesterday were not returned.

The school site was preferred by Nevin, the Town Council and Christian E. Cavey, president of the Hampstead Business Association. They wanted to preserve the school's facade for its historical and sentimental significance.

The mayor said he was disappointed the county commissioners recently decided to negotiate directly with postal officials, after agreeing in January to support the town's desire to have the post office located at the old school site.

"The post office on Houck Avenue has been the anchor for the town's small businessmen," Nevin said. "What are they going to do now?"

Preserving a school

U.S. Postal Service officials informed Hampstead leaders about 16 months ago of their intention to move out of the cramped quarters on Houck Avenue, where postal employees have 3,600 square feet of space. The postal service wants to build a 14,000-square-foot facility and needed to secure a location by next month or risk losing money budgeted for the project.

The old school building, owned by the county Board of Education, was built about 1917. In recent years, it had been used for storage of surplus materials, including desks and toilets. The building badly needed repairs, including a roof, and renovation was deemed too costly.

The town's plan was to get the county and state school boards to declare the property as surplus, passing the deed to the county commissioners.

Hampstead leaders hoped the commissioners would sell the property to the town for $1. The town was offering to raze the building, while preserving the facade, making it available to postal authorities.

Postal officials explored other sites, but agreed in June to wait for the town to secure ownership of the property before making a decision.

The situation reached a head June 8, when postal officials wanted a commitment from the town and county commissioners that the school site was available. Nevin promised the town would gain ownership of the school by the end of last month, or tell postal officials to look elsewhere.

On June 17, Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge, Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier wrote to Nevin and the Hampstead Town Council, promising to keep town leaders informed of negotiations with postal officials.

Correspondence

The commissioners sent Nevin a letter July 28, saying they did not oppose the use of the school site for a new post office, but would require its facade be preserved. The commissioners further stated they were securing an appraisal to determine the property's fair market value.

The next day, a similar letter was sent to Nevin, but was signed only by Gouge and Dell. Omitted was the mention of being "willing to entertain all offers."

"It's curious that [wording] changed from one day to the next," Nevin said.

Nevin said he forwarded copies of the letters from the county commissioners to postal officials Monday, the first business day after the town-imposed July 31 deadline.

Awaiting approval

The county school board declared the school building surplus June 28, forwarding the paperwork to the state school board for what some considered a "rubber stamp" approval.

Yale Stenzler, the state's executive director of public school construction, said yesterday the paperwork had not been processed, but the county commissioners were moving forward in anticipation of that approval.

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