Loss of Cold Spring USPS building brings unwelcome side effects
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Closure of the Cold Spring post office building has cast a shadow to the south, where rehabilitation of the Garrison post office to accommodate functions previously handled in Cold Spring has left residents complaining of traffic hazards and similar problems.
Led by Diane Travis, several homeowners living by the Garrison post office came to the Philipstown Town Board’s Feb. 6 formal monthly meeting, contending that the U.S. Postal Service changes have led to a post office parking shortage, dangerous vehicle maneuvers, and abuse of Grassi Lane, a private road. Located at 1145 Route 9D, not far from the Garrison Union Free School, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, and playing fields, the Garrison post office serves zip code 10524.
“Grassi Lane is a private road. We pay for it,” Travis said. “Post office trucks are back and forth on our road. They’ve made two new driveways onto our road. They’ve got this huge trailer” at the post office as well and parking at the post office now blocks the view of Route 9D for cars exiting from Grassi Lane, she said. In a letter to the board, she also stated that postal customers are parking and turning around on Grassi Lane. “It’s not fair. I can’t afford it” – paying for road wear-and-tear caused by the public traffic on Grassi Lane, she said in her appearance before the board.
She accused the Town Board of delaying the Butterfield redevelopment and thwarting plans to put the Cold Spring post office (zip code 10516) there. “Your inability to make a decision on this post office thing is now foisted on us,” she said. You haven’t figured out what to do with Butterfield and because you can’t figure that out, it’s being foisted on us.”
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea quickly responded that the Butterfield redevelopment is pending before Village of Cold Spring, not the Town of Philipstown, and that the town two or three years ago had declared its intent to take space at a Butterfield inter-governmental center.
However, he and the rest of the Town Board sympathized with the Grassi Lane residents. “I’d be outraged, too,” about what’s happened at the Garrison post office, Shea told Travis. “You live in a residential neighborhood. If we have to take legal action on behalf of the residents, we will do that.”
Federal law vs. local regulations
The town’s legal recourses may be limited. One early attempt to oversee USPS moves at Garrison failed: On Dec. 2, as the renovations got underway, Kevin Donohue, the Philipstown building inspector-code enforcement officer issued a stop-work order, only to rescind it Jan. 7 because the U.S. Constitution and federal law exempt the USPS from state and municipal regulations.
While the USPS does not own the lot occupied by the Garrison post office, because the site is devoted to the post office, both the USPS and its landlord, Moni LLC, are covered by the federal exemptions. The Garrison post office’s current lease began in 2004 and ends Oct. 31 of this year.
According to letters to Donohue in December from Paul Yu, a USPS architect and engineer, the Garrison post office upgrades involve repair and alteration of the building, including demolition of a storage room, new ceilings and lighting, and a new exterior rear door; a non-permanent wooden mail platform, and use of a temporary trailer. In one letter, Yu explained the constitutional strictures and related federal laws and court rulings that relieve the post office from having to follow state and local zoning regulations or obtain building permits.
Although a 2006 law “requires the postal service to seek input from local building departments” it “ultimately authorizes the postal service to reject any input after giving it due consideration,” Yu informed Donohue. Thus, Yu wrote on Dec. 16, “I respectfully request the town refrain from seeking to enforce code requirements against the postal service or its contractors, or attempting to stop the postal service’s work.” He said use of the temporary structures and completion of the renovations could finish by May 1.
The USPS provided various plans and documents to Donohue, but, as the latter told Philipstown.info Feb. 7, “I’m out. It’s the federal government” undertaking the work, enjoying exemptions “from everything, even the New York State building code.” By law the USPS can choose “to say nothing to us, and that’s what’s really sad. It’s the federal government failing to respond to the public,” he said.
Shea said on Feb. 7 that he had taken steps to pursue the issue with U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who lives in the 10516 Cold Spring mail zone.
The county legislator’s perspective
At the Town Board meeting, Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra echoed Travis’ assertion that use of the Butterfield site for postal purposes might have spared Garrison.
She said that the USPS temporary trailer and large trucks could have used the Butterfield Hospital property, even without it being developed, instead of being crammed into the USPS site in Garrison. “The Garrison location is awful. We have to do something because it’s a mess. They should’ve put it at Butterfield and this wouldn’t have happened,” Scuccimarra said.
She offered the distraught residents a glimmer of hope, saying that she had spoken with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department about ticketing cars improperly parked on or near Grassi Lane as well as contacting Maloney’s office.
In September 2012, Butterfield owner Paul Guillaro agreed to allow the post office to put temporary trailers on the old hospital lot when the Cold Spring post office closed but in return he wanted decisive village action on his redevelopment project.
The Cold Spring Planning Board is currently reviewing aspects of Guillaro’s plans. For Guillaro to proceed, the property also must be rezoned, a matter for the Village Board of Trustees to address.